What gets you sued gets you hurt. It s that simple. Use-of force and motor-vehicle operations remain the high-risk areas of law enforcement. Look at the reports of officer injuries and lawsuits from any department and you ll likely find those two areas are the ones getting cops hurt and landing officers and their agencies in court.
Couple this knowledge with the fact that what gets you sued is the when or the who, and what gets you hurt is the how, and it becomes clear that officers need both motor-skill and cognitive training in these high-risk areas. Cognitive training (i.e., the classroom) will help with the litigation risk, while actually picking up a weapon and practicing with it will help reduce the probability of officer injuries by making officers more proficient, and thus more able to control resistance and to reduce the threat of violence to themselves and others.
It stands to reason, then, that we should train with each of our force and control options. One of the most recent additions to the police arsenal is the electronic control device (ECD), usually in the form of a TASER. While these high-tech tools have been around in their current form since 1999 (for the M26 TASER, and 2003 for the X26), many officers are just getting their hands on them as more and more departments adopt them.
Because of common misunderstandings regarding the effects of ECDs, and general media hype whenever an officer uses one in any kind of high-profile situation, many departments remain cautious when they conduct training with these new devices. Combine that with the average person s fear of electricity, and departments struggle with questions regarding whether or not ECD training should involve live exposure to the device. The current crop of questions regarding the necessity, or even advisability, of officers taking a hit with an ECD is very similar to those that surrounded training with aerosol weapons 10 or 15 years ago.
The major manufacturer of ECDs, TASER International, does not require that end-users or instructors receive a live hit during training. The company s stated position is that such a question is a local policy decision. The only individuals required to receive a live TASER exposure are candidates for TASER Master Instructor, the designation TASER International awards to instructor-trainers. That required exposure runs a full five seconds, and it s administered at the Master Instructor School.
Why, then, would a department decide to have its officers subject themselves to a live ECD exposure? Is it really necessary, especially considering that the devices have been around long enough that most officers already know of their effectiveness on the street?
As a trainer with a risk management background, I absolutely believe that there are several good reasons for taking the ride. I will, however, state here and now for the record that when I took it, it was the longest five seconds of my life, or at least it seemed so. I m extremely glad I went through it, though. Having experienced the effects of a TASER firsthand gave me a perspective that someone who has not experienced the effects can never understand. It also gave me the utmost respect for the weapon as a control device.
Every proponent of taking a hit has heard, Why should I? I don t have to be shot with my 9mm in order to understand my firearm. While this might be a natural question, it s not a serious one. The effects of being shot (or struck with a baton, another frequent example) are generally and universally understood. Additionally, a comparison such as this is really apples and bananas. Exposure to an aerosol or ECD results in a temporary effect, with the potential for lasting harm very low. Bullet holes and broken bones are different outcomes altogether.
Any trainer will tell you that the more real the training event is, the more the trainee will learn and retain. If it was possible to use 9mm rounds and full-force baton hits in training without causing harm to officers, that training would prove very effective. In fact, we do use such devices in training, but in deference to the harm that could result, we do so with simulation training rounds and padded protective suits. Such protection is not necessary when training with ECDs and aerosols.
Another common objection to live ECD exposures in training is that there is a potential for injury, and that s true. However, that potential remains low if a department follows proper, safe training protocols. Very few injuries have been reported in training (a fraction of 1 percent of the trainees) and have not reflected the actual delivery of the TASER charge. Reported injuries were attributed to falls, bodily movement of the trainee or muscle contraction.
Departments concerned about injuries in ECD training should contrast the low frequency of reported training injuries to those reported for other types of law enforcement training, especially defensive tactics, fitness and firearms training. Typically, injuries occur far more often in those types of training.
Why Do Live Hits?
Many of the same questions about ECD training were asked years ago when considering training with OC and other aerosols. Back then, trainers were concerned that officers needed to experience the effects of OC for two primary and very valid reasons. First, they needed to have realistic expectations of what would happen when they sprayed someone. They needed to understand that the spray might have minimal effect, allowing the bad guy to continue to attack them and to resist their attempts at control. Second, officers needed to understand that they would be able to survive and fight through the effects if they were sprayed by an offender. Those two goals were best accomplished by officers taking live hits in class, and other officers observing that their classmates could fight back after the hit.
While there may be some ECD training exposure parallel to the first reason stated above, there is none to the second. Generally, officers can t resist the effects of a TASER hit. Their defense to that scenario depends on their avoiding the probes or creating distance from the attacker before they fire an ECD at the officer. What, then, is the benefit of a live hit from an ECD in training?
The primary reason that a department might incorporate such training is one of credibility: Credibility for the instructors advising the department regarding ECD use; credibility of the department in the community regarding the department s belief in the ECD s safety; and credibility of officers in court regarding their personal understanding of the effects of an ECD, and the necessity to use that particular level of force to control an aggressive individual.
Live ECD exposures in class can also yield significant training benefits. Officers can not only experience the effects for themselves the path to true understanding but they can also observe the effects on their classmates. No two people react exactly the same to an ECD hit, and observing a variety of reactions is excellent training.
Officers will also benefit from a variety of training scenarios in class. The trainer should incorporate different types of ECD deployments during training. Different probe spreads and locations of probe hits on the body will cause different types of reactions. Additionally, trainers should demonstrate drive stuns, contact probe deployments and three-point hits (a contact probe deployment coupled with a drive stun) in order to show trainees how to use these techniques most effectively. Trainers should press trainees into service for probe removal to teach them the proper technique for that important post-use measure.
And last but not least, there is one more very important thing trainees can learn through live exposures: They can learn it s OK to touch someone who is being controlled with a TASER.
It s very common during live street deployments for officers to wait until the end of a five-second exposure before moving in to control and handcuff a suspect. Many times this works out fine some suspects will give up after an ECD exposure. However, many will continue to fight as soon as the current stops flowing, and this usually necessitates a second activation.
It s understandable if officers remain reluctant to touch a subject under the control of a TASER because we were all taught as children to fear electricity. We caution officers against touching downed wires, and against touching someone being electrocuted by a power line.
The TASER lesson plan speaks to this issue specifically, but there s no substitute for actually seeing it done, and doing it personally in class. The current training safety protocols for TASER training involve the use of two spotters, each of whom takes hold of the arm of the trainee who will take the ride. The spotters support the trainee on each side during the live exposure, and then lower them to the ground to avoid a training injury due to a fall. By doing this, the spotters learn that they will not be affected by the charge from the TASER, and the rest of the class learns through observation.
I can t overstate the importance of this: Officers on the street must be encouraged to move in and take control of a suspect while the suspect is being controlled with a TASER. This is called cuffing under power, and the purpose of doing so is threefold: 1) To reduce the potential for an injury to the officers or suspect by quickly ending the confrontation, 2) to reduce the possibility a suspect will pull the probes loose or break the wires and 3) to reduce the necessity for second and subsequent ECD activations.
In order to be meaningful, use-of-force training should be undertaken in context. This means we no longer stand flatfooted in front of a pistol target and slowly fire rounds into a piece of paper. We take cover, issue verbal commands and engage multiple targets in low light.
In aerosol training, we don t stand there and let the instructor spray us in the face, then go wash off. We take the spray in the face and then fend off attacks by instructors or trainees who have instructions to take away our red-handled gun. Our goal is to retain our weapon and fight off the attempt at disarming, while creating distance and calling for help.
ECD training should be undertaken in a similar vein. One method: Have the spotters move away immediately after laying the trainee down, and direct other officers to move in during the ECD activation and place handcuffs on the suspect, all the while using verbal commands. They could then finish by performing a proper probe removal and securing the probes as evidence according to their training.
Perform ECD training on mats to avoid fall injuries and rug burns. Take care to clear the training area of tables, chairs and other objects because it s possible a trainee could slip sideways during a training exposure. Everyone in the room should wear protective eyewear when ECD cartridges are being fired.
Group exposures are no longer recommended by TASER International because the practice of interlocking arms or hands between trainees carries with it the possibility of injuries. Additionally, a group exposure largely exists for the purpose of being able to say you did it, with little, if any, tactical benefit.
Last, observe proper probe removal protocols with the participants wearing gloves and taking universal precautions. Upon probe removal, trainees should examine the probes to make certain they removed the entire probe, and then they should secure the probes for disposal in a sharps container. Use alcohol swabs and band-aids on the probe puncture sites.
Prior to live ECD training, fully advise officers of the expected effects of an exposure, and that although the risk of an injury during the hit is low, it does exist. Provide a properly prepared advice of risk form for officers to read, and they should sign it stating that they understand the information it contains. There should be a spot on the form for officers to make the department aware of any injury, recent surgery or other condition that might preclude their participation in live ECD exposure training. A sample form is included in every TASER International Instructor Manual.
Properly done, there is much to be gained from live ECD exposures in training. Trainees can be properly and effectively exposed to a live ECD hit with little likelihood of injury, and the benefits to officers and departments so trained are significant. Overall officer safety in the use of force will be enhanced, and the risk of use-of-force litigation will be reduced.
Stay safe, and wear your vest.