Conductive energy devices (CEDs). Electro-Muscular Disruption Technology (EMDT). TASERS. Stun guns. No matter what name you assign these devices, without sound policy, proper training and community outreach, they represent a potential liability for the departments who have them.
"The CED is in its own little world," says Maj. Steve Ijames, who authored the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) model policy for the device's use. "It is more valuable than any incapacitation tool I've ever seen because it stops people who don't feel pain. Nothing else does that, except tools that kill people."
On the flip side, Ijames uses the words "lawful but awful" to describe some CED applications. "The uses met policy, but when you stood back and looked at them you asked, 'What were you thinking?' " explains the 29-year veteran officer of the Springfield (Missouri) Police Department.
The media plays up these "lawful but awful" deployments, making it appear as if the tool lacks a legitimate place in policing. But to equip officers with a means of non-lethal problem resolution, the CED is indispensable. In order for departments to keep the tool in their arsenal, Ijames emphasizes safeguards must be in place to prevent misuse and protect departments from liability.
"If you don't take care of business and stay on top of problems, you could lose the technology someday," stresses Chief Dan Montgomery of the Department, which has been using CEDs since 1999. Being proactive keeps CEDs on law enforcement duty belts and negates the need for state statutes and legislation dictating and limiting their lawful deployment.
The Westminster PD originally added CEDs to beef up its less-lethal inventory. "We didn't have much, beyond OC and the baton," explains Sgt. Kevin Sailor, who has been with the Westminster PD for more than 27 years. "We wanted to have some other options for officers to choose from."
The department waded very slowly into the CED pool, opting to test AirTaser 34000 electric stun devices then purchasing a few for officers to use. It later transitioned to M26s from TASER International of Scottsdale, Arizona, but only a handful of officers were trained to use them. A dramatic use in 2001 saved a young girl's life and radically shifted this department's point of view. As a result, it now arms every officer with a CED.
Montgomery recalls a suicidal teenage girl had barricaded herself in the bathroom of her parents' home. Westminster officers arrived and tried to encourage the teen to give up, but instead she became more agitated and threatened to kill anyone who sought to prevent her from taking her life. She informed officers she was cutting herself, and they felt they needed to take immediate action. They then set a plan into place where one officer was armed with OC, one with a CED and two others with lethal force as back up. When they kicked open the door, the youth charged with a butcher knife in each hand. The first officer pepper sprayed her but the teen kept attacking. The officers armed with lethal force began taking up the slack in their triggers as the remaining officer shot off the CED. "They were microseconds away from killing this girl, and that's when the CED struck her," Sailor recalls. "She dropped the knives and fell to the floor. Officers took her into custody — and no one was hurt. Every dime we'd spent on CEDs was paid for in that instant."
Hands-on confrontations often take a violent twist with at least two people getting hurt — the officer and the suspect, Montgomery explains. When a very resistive suspect prefers fight to surrender, officers must close in and put themselves at risk to take control. In 2002, before Westminster issued CEDs department-wide, 10 percent of its officers were on light duty or leave due to injuries. Says Sailor, "Not all of them were from grappling with suspects, but a good number of them were." These injuries placed officers on reduced status for months at a time, representing a huge financial burden in terms of salaries, benefits and workman's compensation. "Once we began issuing CEDs to every officer, we saw injury rates plummet," he adds. "Today, we've almost eliminated injuries because we rarely go hands on anymore."