CEDs Stop Suspects in Their Tracks

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...


There is simply no other tool that delivers what a CED does, adds Ijames, noting his department deploys them to 341 officers. CEDs deliver a high-voltage electrical charge that interacts with the body's own electrical impulses. The shock confuses the body's regular signals and pushes the muscles into an immediate frenzy of over-exertion. The resulting energy loss makes it difficult to move and sometimes hard to comprehend speech. A 1/2-second jolt startles an attacker; a 1- to 2-second shock dazes him and triggers muscle spasms; and a 3-second shock disorients the subject, puts him off-balance and possibly disables his muscle control. Police CEDs deliver a 5-second jolt, which is more than enough to stop a criminal in his tracks.

Likewise, no other device offers the CED's range, which is reportedly 25 feet, notes Rick Guilbault, vice president of training at TASER Intl. Batons and OC lack the same reach, fueling risk for officers who must move in close to deploy them. With CEDs, authorities confront violent subjects from a safe distance and trim hand-to-hand combat situations.

"If anyone can give me an alternative for how I can get handcuffs on resistive and violent subjects, I will sign up tomorrow," Ijames stresses. "But there is nothing else out there that gets the job done. While nay-sayers sit comfortably in their chairs questioning the use of this device, I still have police officers standing in an alley facing off with a naked man on meth."

Lawful but awful?

A policy describing both "lawful" and "awful" uses and situating the devices on the use-of-force continuum should be in place before the first CED deployment. Supervisors must review these one- to two-page policies at least once a year, Montgomery points out.

"Policies have to be dynamic, and they can't go into a three-ring binder and sit on a shelf." he stresses, noting Westminster puts its policy manual on every PC in the station and laptops in every patrol car.

Departments typically position CED deployment low on the use-of-force scale; and Westminster is no exception. The caveat this department sets on their use is there must be a verbal warning first. Its officers must instruct subjects to comply with commands or they will deploy the device. Officers in this department often combine such warnings with spark demos.

Many times these actions gain compliance from passive-resistant subjects because they play into their natural fear of electricity. "I've told people on the street 'You better stop it or I'm going to hit you with 50,000 volts,' " Sailor says. "It scares people into compliance. They don't realize they really won't get hit with 50,000 volts."

A notable department in CED deployment is in Seattle, Washington, where officers have carried the devices since 2000. This department, which opts to equip only a select group of officers instead of issuing CEDs department-wide, has been lauded by the National Institute of Justice for its CED program. The Seattle Police Department does not follow a use-of-force continuum per se but places CEDs at an equal level with hands-on combat, batons and other less-lethal types of force.

It's a real balancing act, admits Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske, who sat on the IACP advisory board for the organization's CED deployment recommendations. (For more information on this report, see "Nine steps to effective CED deployment" at right.) People sometimes question whether strong verbal commands and a firm hold might be sufficient; then there's an incident that evolves into a violent, hands-on struggle. At this point, it's too late to deploy a CED. "An officer can't take his hands off the person and retreat so he can deploy it," Kerlikowske emphasizes.

When to use them and when not to remains the question, says Ijames, who points out as recently as three years ago, many agencies advocated deploying CEDs very early in an altercation to prevent injuries. "But just because you can statistically prove injury reduction doesn't mean it's a lawful use," he explains.

He cites an example where an officer pulls over a motorist for speeding and requests his driver's license. Let's say the driver asks angrily, "Why did you stop me?" Some individuals who begin such a dialogue ultimately resist arrest. If an officer subscribes to the argument that injury reduction is everything, he may deploy the device at any argumentative subject.

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