A Call for Taser Reformadmin
THE DANGERS OF THE EVOLUTION OF POLICE ELECTRONIC CONTROL DEVICES (ECD) DEVICE
(A PROPOSAL FOR ECD/TASER REFORM)
This proposal is an effort to facilitate reform of the nation’s current Electronic Control Device
(ECD) / Taser utilization. There are many existing nationwide efforts to bring about greater accountability, and a change to how ECDs / Tasers are utilized by the nations varied law enforcement agencies. This proposal stands in agreement with the primary gist of those efforts, but not with the ideas which call for the disarming of our peace officers in an effort to
address the issue. In fact, the need for ECDs / Tasers, Stun Guns, O.C. Spray, ASP Batons and
other “less-than-lethal” and “non-lethal” remedies to the myriad dangers facing law
enforcement officers on a daily basis is a real and ever-growing necessity. Efforts should be
made to increase and expand the “Less than Lethal” arsenal of our law enforcement, rather
than decrease or deplete it to the point that the only tool left available to officers is their
handgun. As previously stated, there are ample efforts to rein in the abuse or overutilization of ECD / Taser type devices, as there is an obvious increase in deaths relating to their misuse. For this reason, this proposal will focus on a less explored solution to the ECD / Taser problem.
Figure 1: Taser (or) type device
– Pre 1998
When we look at the evolution of the ECD / Taser device employed by law enforcement, we
come upon a glaring, yet apparently unobvious concern. The concern is with the very
construction or design of the device itself. The ECD / Taser has evolved from having a common
flashlight appearance, structure and feel to its current configuration of exact or near exact
nomenclature of officers’ duty firearms. Unfortunately, and for whatever reason, most law
enforcement agencies see this as a plus or advantage. The contrary couldn’t be more true! These modern ECDs/Tasers were sold to our nations’ peace keeping agencies based on the fallacy that familiarity, consistency with order of arms, nomenclature, translatable ergonomics and intuitiveness were favorable and ideal factors regarding the ECD / Taser and its relationship to standard duty sidearms. Again, the contrary could not be more true.
Figure 2: Taser (or) type device
– Post 1998 – Present*
The fact is that when the average officer is engaged in the heat of a hands-on battle, several
factors are in play:
- His/her adrenaline is peaked
- Blaring sirens deafen his/her hearing
- His/her ability to communicate with fellow officers is severely diminished, creating further confusion
- He/she is physically, mentally and emotionally operating in survival mode (Fight/Flight)
- Unfortunately, more times than not, he/she is functioning from a socially instilled “fear of black men.”
Now, this is not to say that whites aren’t also victims of the misuse of Taser type devices; or that color/race is even a factor in all cases. I’m merely pointing out the fact that when people of color are involved, there is a greater likelihood that it will serve to exacerbate the four remaining factors.
Figure 3: Taser (or) type device – Post 1998 – Present*
*Listed dates are approximations based on general times devices were introduced to the law enforcement community.
These factors and others contribute to the likelihood that an officer will mistakenly deploy
his/her duty firearm rather than their ECD / Taser in the heat of battle. Therefore, I submit that
the anatomical design and ergonomics of the ECD / Taser currently in use by most, if not all, law
enforcement agencies in the nation, is actually problematic. All of the variables which are
touted as being the benefits of the ECD / Taser, are actually detriments from a realistic and
Most agency’s response to instances where a suspect is mistakenly shot by the service weapon
of the arresting officer is additional training for the entire department. No amount of extra
departmental training or retraining can remedy this issue. You can’t TRAIN someone to not
experience the natural biological dump of adrenaline in emotionally heightened situations. You
can’t TRAIN away the disruption to a person’s equilibrium from the effects of blaring sirens and
flashing blue strobe lights. You can’t TRAIN away the disruption of mental cognizance which
accompanies being fear stricken. And you’d be hard pressed to TRAIN away subconscious levels
of fear-based stereotypes indoctrinated in people (even some Black officers) regarding the
innate criminality, animalism, and amorality of Black people – particularly, black men.
There have been efforts to utilize bright yellow colored ECDs / Tasers as a solution, as well as
requiring officers to wear the devices on the opposite side of their duty belt from their firearm.
Even this effort to force the officer to have to “cross draw” the ECD / Taser has been shown to
get lost in translation by a dissipation of mental capacity while in a fearful physical altercation.
The proposed remedy is simple. Although the choice can be fiscally challenging for some of the
smaller budget agencies across the nation, I assert that there can never be a price more
important or of greater value than that of a human life.
The simple remedy would be for all law enforcement agencies to revert back to any of the
earlier designs which predate the pistol grip style ECDs / Tasers. The earlier configurations were
of a flashlight or tubular style or design. Back then, there was no mistaking when you were
unholstering your firearm or you ECD / Taser. The only reported instances of ECD/Taser issues
were from misuse. Early ECD/Taser issues included such things as deployed on pacemaker
patients, prolonged application of shocking, shocking too many times and I even remember a
case of the device being used in a situation where combustibles were present. I’m not aware of
any reports of an ECD / Taser being involved in the shooting death of a suspect resulting from an officer mistaking their firearm with his/her ECD / Taser. IT JUST DIDN’T HAPPEN BACK THEN.
In conclusion, I propose that ALL law enforcement agencies consider re-outfitting their officers with non-pistol style ECD / Taser devices. There are a multitude of departments across the nation that have never had a singular incident of “weapon confusion” regarding ECD / Taser devices, and would therefore consider this proposal to be a waste of fiscal resources. My innate response to this position is: why on earth would you wait until you have a “body in the streets” before you address an easily foreseeable issue? I would further argue that the growing instances of these incidents are not only unfortunate, but totally avoidable. If it’s a question of fiscal responsibility, the question then begs to answer: how many lives have to be lost before it’s economically justifiable or reasonable for an agency to convert to a less confusing configuration of their ECD / Taser? The civil liability in the balance can hardly be absorbed by most smaller agencies. Even the largest agencies have to weigh the cost of several multi-million dollar settlements in comparison to the several hundred thousand dollar cost to re-outfit their organizations.
My hope would be that a greater calling would inspire agencies to consider this proposal. My
hope would be that there exists an overall consensus that no amount of money is too great if it
can save or spare the life of only one individual. After all, isn’t that the historically stated
purpose for the very existence of the Law Enforcement profession?
Here are but a few examples of some of the more publicized “weapon confusion” incidents in recent times:
ROCHESTER, Minn. — A Rochester police officer thought he was using a stun gun when he fired a bullet into the back of a man he was trying to subdue, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has concluded. Rochester Police Chief Roger Peterson said the BCA investigation found that officer Greg Siem, a six-year veteran with the department, was trying to subdue Christofar Atak on Sept. 2. when he accidentally used his handgun instead of his Taser, a non-lethal device that uses an electric shock to incapacitate a person. Peterson said Siem shot Atak once before realizing his mistake, then dropped his pistol and called for medical assistance. Atak, who remains hospitalized, was listed in fair condition Friday at Saint Marys Hospital. Peterson said he spoke Thursday with Atak to explain the BCA’s findings and formally apologize. “I think the issue for the community has always been whether this was accidental or intentional,” Peterson said. “We know now that this was accidental.” He said both officers, who have been on administrative leave since the shooting, can return to work when they are ready.
A former transit police officer who fatally shot an unarmed man at an Oakland train station was convicted of involuntary manslaughter Thursday, capping a racially charged case that raised fears in the Bay Area of possible violence after the verdict. Prosecutors accused the ex-officer of intentionally firing his handgun as he tried to handcuff Oscar J. Grant III on New Year’s Day 2009. Johannes Mehserle, 28, tearfully testified that the shooting was a tragic accident caused when he mistakenly grabbed his firearm instead of an electric Taser weapon during a struggle with Grant. The shooting was captured on video by several witnesses. Mehserle, who is white, fired a single round into the back of Grant, who was black and was lying face-down on the station platform. Mehserle resigned a week after the shooting.
A 73-year-old insurance salesman and reserve sheriff’s deputy has been charged with second-degree manslaughter after he appeared to accidentally fire his gun instead of his Taser and shot dead an unarmed man, Eric Harris. Harris, 44, died on 2 April after a sting operation designed to catch him selling a gun went wrong. He fled on foot but was caught and wrestled to the ground. In video released by the Tulsa County sheriff’s office, the deputy, Bob Bates, yells “Taser”, then a shot is heard and he says: “I shot him, I’m sorry.”
A sheriff’s deputy in Georgia mistook his handgun for his Taser while trying to subdue an 18-year-old man who allegedly hit his mother, shooting the suspect in his arm, body cam video shows. The video released by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation shows veteran Baldwin County Deputy Charles Gillis responding to the scene of an alleged domestic dispute on Oct. 9. Deputies at the scene encountered 18-year-old Jamel Jackson and his mother, Gloria, who called police for help after her son allegedly hit her in the face. In the video of the incident, one deputy can be heard saying “he’s upstairs” before Gillis and two other deputies try to take Jackson into custody on charges of battery. Jackson then begins to resist, prompting a deputy behind Gillis to shout “Taser, Taser,” at which point Gillis is seen mistakenly pulling out his firearm instead and fired one shot into Jackson’s arm. Gillis, a nine-year vet who has been placed on administrative leave by Baldwin County Sheriff Bill Massee, told investigators that he intended to use his Taser at the time, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which is looking into the incident and will turn over its findings to the district attorney for possible charges before a grand jury. No deputies were injured during the incident.
LAWRENCE, Kan. — Dashcam video released Monday shows a Kansas police officer shooting and wounding a man in a case in which the rookie officer told investigators she mistakenly fired her firearm instead of her Taser. The video provided in response to an open records request is from the patrol vehicle of an officer who pulled over 35-year-old Akira Lewis for a suspected seatbelt violation in May 2018 near downtown Lawrence, the Lawrence Journal-World report ed. Lewis is heard in the video telling the white officer that he was pulled over because he is black and insists on seeing a supervisor. When he refuses to provide identification and continues arguing, backup officer Brindley Blood was summoned. She is seen shooting Lewis when he punches and tackles the officer who initiated the traffic stop. Blood, who resigned from the police force in January after being placed on paid leave, is charged with aggravated battery. Lewis was treated at a hospital and is charged with several misdemeanors, including battery against a law enforcement officer. The affidavit in the case against Blood said she didn’t realize she had shot Lewis until she looked for the Taser wires to see if they had hit their mark and realized there weren’t any. She said during her interview with investigators, “I shot, shot him, I pulled my firearm instead of my Taser,” the affidavit said.
officer Stuart Lee Harrison, 56, of the 6100 block of Thoman Drive, Spring Grove, was dispatched at about 4:50 p.m. for a report of an unruly subject, according to an affidavit filed with District Judge Thomas Reilly. Harrison arrived to the scene at Santander Bank in the first block of West Hanover Street and spoke with the bank manager, who said Ryan Smith, 32, of Jackson Township, was demanding to take money from his account but did not have identification. Harrison, who has been employed with Southwestern Regional Police Department since January 2003, tried to peacefully escort Smith outside, but he refused. Harrison had to deploy his taser, but it was ineffective. He gave Smith verbal commands, but Smith did not comply, the affidavit states. Smith was struck with a second taser deployment, which was also ineffective, and Harrison called for back up. Officer Michael Matthews arrived, and both officers were able to take Smith to the ground, but he still was not complying. Matthews then tased Smith in the back, and they were able to handcuff Smith, police said in the affidavit. Video evidence from a cellphone inside the bank showed the officers attempted to tase Smith five times before they removed him from the bank. Smith was then escorted to the back of a police vehicle, but he refused to get in. Both officers could not get Smith into the vehicle, so Harrison decided he would drive stun Smith in the thigh hoping that would buckle Smith’s leg, allowing the officers to get him into their vehicle. Harrison — a certified firearms instructor and taser instructor for Southwestern Regional — said he then placed what he thought was his taser against Smith’s thigh and pulled the trigger. He said as soon as he heard the sound, he knew it wasn’t his taser, the affidavit states.
A New Hope police officer who shot a man in the stomach while he was in police custody will not face criminal charges, Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub said Friday, because the shooting was accidental. The prosecutor said the shooting was “neither criminal nor justified, but was excused.” The officer, who retired Wednesday and whose name was not released, shot Brian Riling, 38, during a scuffle inside a holding cell at the New Hope Police Department on March 3. As the officer struggled with Riling, he yelled “Taser!” as a warning but mistakenly drew his gun, Weintraub said. “Given the totality of circumstances, the officer would have been justified in using his Taser to regain control of Riling inside the holding cell, as the officer had a reasonable belief the scuffle posed a danger to his fellow officer,” he said. Because the officer believed he was pointing a taser at Riling, Weintraub said, “he did not possess the criminal mental state required to be guilty of a crime under state law.”