by Dan Kuhn

As I near the end of my police career I’ve noticed something that I think could become even more of a problem then I initially anticipated. During my 20 plus-year career there have been two advances in technology that have made the strong impact on my daily life as a cop in the City of Saginaw. The first is the MDT or the onboard computer, which I’ve had the luxury of having in my car for the last 8 or 9 years, and without which I would be lost. The other is the one that I’m a little worried about, and that is the introduction of the taser.

In my opinion, it has been the best addition to a police officer’s duty belt, as well as possibly the worst invention I’ve ever been assigned to carry. Oh yes, I’ve seen them immobilize some very large suspects, and yes they work as a great deterrent in some instances. I also recognize the fact that officer injuries and suspect injuries have dropped considerably, and I very much appreciate the fact that tasers have leveled the playing field between us and the bad guys. Its nice being able to point a taser at the little thug and actually have him take his hands out of his pockets when I ask, instead of pointing my .40 cal at him and give the same order only to have him take off running knowing I wouldn’t dare shoot him.

I personally also like the fact that now some of the officers who were the last to step up and initiate a physical arrest, now are more likely to, and have a means of doing so. I feel better knowing that nowadays there is no excuse for all the officers involved in making the arrest not sharing in the inherent liability that comes with the job. What I have also recognized, and am very concerned with though, is that some new officers of today seem to develop an unhealthy reliance on the weapon, which results in a severe absence of discretion on their behalf. I cringe when I see videos, or read stories about an officer being assaulted because he/ she chose to use a taser instead of his sidearm in possible deadly force situations.

Please don’t get me wrong, the blame may not be entirely the fault of the officers, as much as it is the academies’ failure to train them in the art of what some of us once called “verbal judo”. When I, like many of you entered the field, we were given a gun, handcuffs, and a good ole fashion wooden night stick. We didn’t have 50,000 volts of electricity hanging from our “Buck-Rogers” leg holsters to rely on, so I at least resorted to “verbal judo,” and even diplomacy when needed to control a situation. And when all else failed, I became proficient in effecting the physical arrest which wasn’t always pretty but has worked for me for over 20 years.

Today, I’m not always that confident that some of my younger co-workers feel the necessity to actually learn how to use “verbal judo,” or become proficient at effecting a physical arrest, much less actually know how. I place a lot of that blame on some police officers over reliance on the taser.

What really convinced me to write this article was an experiment I conducted with the assistance my command officers one morning during roll call. We had all talked about this issue around the table at our favorite Sunday breakfast spot, but little did we know how evident the potential problem would become. That is until one weekend, when after an incident in Bay City, Michigan involving an alleged in-custody death of a suspect who was tased presented an opportunity to critically examine the Saginaw Police Departments Taser policy. Or at least that’s what was told to our roll call one weekend morning. The sergeant also told all of the officers present that until the administrative review was completed, tasers would no longer be assigned.

Upon hearing this, I was witness to the final piece of evidence I needed in order to support my observations and belief that some officers were becoming too dependent on tasers. A junior officer from his seat at the table became visibly upset, and alleged the action to be an “officer safety issue”. The officer then threatened that his SIFA (self-initiated field activity) would be discontinued, to which the sergeant asked him if he was telling her he couldn’t do his job without a taser? The female sergeant pointed out that she had been a police officer for almost 15 years before the taser became available, and that she had no choice but to learn other ways in which to control situations and effect arrests in order to survive in this career. The officer got up and left the station in a fury, failing to even hear the sergeant who was issuing equipment tell us that it was all a joke and tasers were still being handed out.

It’s because of these observations, not because I wish to point fingers or embarrass anyone that I choose to put my concerns in writing. I hope this article serves as a caution to first and most importantly the police officers, but also to the academies and field training officers across the state. Stay alive out there!