The list of what an officer needs to carry on patrol is long; this creates not only a burden on his physical and duty belt real estate, but is also weighty on a department's budget. What may have once been considered a duty gear luxury, less-lethal tools help officers bridge the use of force gap between batons and firearms. One such tool is the Taser electronic control device (ECD).
"I think they're a very, very effective tool. If you went across our agency and talked to the different officers with the varying degrees of experience ... everyone is pretty much in agreement that it's one of the best tools to come along in law enforcement in a long time," Officer Frank Bissette says. "[ECDs] have brought that level of safety up."
But with budgets leaner than anyone ever thought possible, where does the department find money to update any technology? One southern department has found a way to get the upgrade it needed and benefit its public safety neighbors at the same time.
Dollars & sense
Last year, the Dothan Police Department decided it was time to outfit its entire fleet with the latest version of Taser's single-unit ECD, the X26. Previously, the Alabama police department's less-lethal ECD population was mostly made up of M26 units. The M26 version, which began sale to law enforcement in the late '90s, is a bit bulkier, somewhat outdated generation of the technology compared to X26 Tasers. At one point Dothan PD was able to get its hands on a few X26s, but the bulk of the sworn Dothan officers continued to carry the M26, which was bulkier and becoming more expensive to maintain.
"When you've got a device that costs $400 brand new and it costs that much to repair it, it becomes not cost effective," Bissette, a 21-year retired military vet and current sworn officer with Dothan PD, explains.
When Bissette retired from the military he joined DPD full-time. As part of his responsibilities, he handles all issues related to training and also equipment purchase. Though the department has 165 sworn positions, Bissette says initially only student resource officers and supervisors were carrying the X26 Taser ECDs.
Last year, Bissette says DPD and the City made the decision to buy the X26 for the entire department. Several factors influenced this decision, he says, including the desire for a smaller-sized model and considering that Taser is phasing out the older M26 technology.
With the new devices in place, the department had 110 M26 units it no longer needed. That's when Bissette says he began researching what he could do with the spare Tasers.
"Dothan is the largest department in this part of Alabama -- in the Southeastern corner of Alabama -- and we have a lot of smaller ... municipal departments and communities that surround our area. We decided to go ahead and let them buy the Tasers at a much reduced price to better facilitate equipping them," he says.
Surprisingly, Taser believes this is a great plan. The company would like to see all agencies update their equipment, however Steve Tuttle, spokesman for Taser, says it's just not feasible for many departments right now. Instead, Tuttle finds this method of updating, and passing that technological on down, a smart system.
"That's not seen in a negative way at all. I think [buying and selling second-hand Tasers] is just being clever," Tuttle says. "You know, a lot of agencies just destroy these things -- or they return them for the credit, hopefully -- but that way good technology is still going to good use, and I think that's respectable."
The Taser toolbox
For law enforcement, Taser has several offerings, the eldest of which for police is the M26.
Tuttle notes the differences between Taser's M26 and X26 devices, emphasizing that the M26 is aged technologically. M26 devices have been available since 1999, with updates and tweaks taking place between then and when the X26 unit was released in 2003. Tuttle compares the electronic development to another portable everyday unit, the cellular phone. "They are like cell phones; they get beaten up," Tuttle says. "It's a great analogy; you do get quite an advantage with a 2010 cell phone versus something that was designed in 1999."