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."
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.
Agencies abiding by this reasoning soon watched their CED deployments rehashed on the evening news where they shocked the public's conscience. These situations rattled the IACP and other police organizations, prompting them to create a restrictive model policy, specifying prohibitions to CED operation. This policy bans CED deployments on restrained prisoners, unless subjects remain overtly combative. "I think you can find a scenario where their application is appropriate on a handcuffed prisoner," says Ijames, "but they are few and far between." The IACP model policy also forbids CED use in a coercive or punitive manner. An officer can't instruct subjects to walk faster, for example, then place the device on drive stun mode and zap them.
While Seattle opts not to prohibit specific applications in policy, its officers study these situations in training. There, its 300+ CED-equipped officers learn it's unwise to shoot fleeing suspects or those riding bicycles because the device so quickly immobilizes them. "If they are running at a good clip or riding away on a bicycle, being hit could cause secondary injury," Kerlikowske explains. Officers also learn not to deploy the devices when an alcohol-based pepper spray is used or flammable liquids are present.
Westminster policy restricts CED use on the elderly, pregnant women, small children, etc. However, Montgomery adds, "There can always be an exception, and we leave that door open."
Reach out and touch the community
Be it filled with nay-sayers, critics or supporters, the public must be informed. Community outreach ranks high as a critical element of any CED program, stresses Montgomery, whose department demonstrates CEDs at its citizen police academies and to service organizations, judges and local prosecutors. In every demo, those present receive an opportunity to take a hit, and "many do," he says.
Being forthright reduces problems later on, adds Kerlikowske, who once took an exposure with the local NAACP chapter president on television then spoke with reporters afterward. "When he [the NAACP chapter president] asked me if I'd ever been hit, I said 'no.' I said, 'We issue guns and I have never shot myself either,' " he recalls. "But I told him if he was going to do it, I would do it too. It turned out to be an unbelievably positive experience."
The Seattle PD has faced litigation in just one out of 700 deployments. In this case, the department settled out of court for $25,000. Judicious use of the device keeps the number of complaints in any given year low. When complaints arise, Kerlikowske says he doesn't hesitate to go public. When an officer shocked a local teen, Kerlikowske met with the media to discuss the case. He explained the boy, who'd been treated for mental health issues for some time, stood before officers with a knife to his stomach and stressed that officers shot the teen to keep him safe. "Once we explained the situation, there was never another word said," he says. "A department has to be open about CED use."
Ijames echoes Kerlikowske's sentiments stating, "The agencies that get into trouble are the ones that have not done anything to open their doors and explain why they do what they do."
Community programs also must address "Electricity 101," says Sailor. Most people know their home electrical system carries 110 volts of electricity, and find it frightening that a CED releases 50,000 volts. They don't realize the shock from simply scuffing their feet across the carpet then grabbing a doorknob produces up to 30,000 volts. Fifty-thousand volts represents the pressure pushing the electrical charge along the device's wires and probes, not the shock delivered to the subject. It's amperage that's the real concern, he stresses. Here's where people can rest at ease because CEDs operate at extremely low amperage. (The M26 and X26 function at less than 4/1000 of an amp.)
Sometimes the public mistakenly believes CED-armed officers no longer require firearms, notes Kerlikowske. The savvy police department also addresses this misconception. "There will still be cases where officers face off with an armed subject and need to go directly to deadly force," he says. "You don't want people to be uninformed about where CEDs fit."
Keep it honest, keep it real
When law enforcement first introduced pepper spray, news broadcasts never criticized the motive behind its use. However, the media frequently questions the rationale behind CED applications. There are sound reasons for this, Ijames explains. "The CED has the potential for abuse. Law enforcement, though the numbers are very low, has done inappropriate things with CEDs, and we have been called on it on national television."
The media often downplays that no other less-lethal device builds in as much accountability as the CED. Besides recording the details of each and every use, systems are now available to videotape every application. "This protects officers from unfounded complaints and keeps cops honest," Ijames says. "They know if they abuse it, we can download the data and find out."
However, data's rendered meaningless if officials fail to track and monitor these records. The Seattle PD scrutinizes CED use by keeping a data-intensive record on each application. Each entry in this database includes information about: the call's circumstances, whether the subject was impaired due to drug or alcohol use or mental illness, and if the suspect brandished a weapon or threatened violence. It also incorporates information on the tool's effectiveness. This report travels through the department for review.
A department official should examine use-of-force reports and other officer accounts after every field use. As long as the download somewhat parallels officer statements, there's little need for concern. "It's not unusual for an officer to forget the details of a very heated battle," Sailor says, noting he also retrieves the offense report, which contains more comprehensive information. This helps him determine the application's appropriateness. "There has only been a few times where CED use was found inappropriate for the circumstances," he says. "For the most part officers abide by our policy and the training received."
Ijames advocates mandatory quarterly and random CED downloads in addition to downloads after a field use. "There has to be absolute accountability," he says.
When reviewing CED logs, this veteran trainer says he analyzes every use, from the 1-second spark test required at the beginning of a shift to actual deployments, and compares this data to all reported applications. Intensive scrutiny helps him identify potential problems. For example, if the log shows deployment during a 90-day period with no operational record on file, discipline will follow. "That's inappropriate and absolutely inexcusable," he says. "You are not allowed to show your friends how they spark. That's like shooting off your gun in the parking lot."
Without such record keeping, the potential for abuse or misuse exists, he stresses. "This is basically good housekeeping. We have to do everything we can to prove our officers are using this technology appropriately."
Train, train and train again
"You can't just issue these things and put them in the field," Kerlikowske maintains. "You need a comprehensive training program to monitor applications and keep officers abreast of technology changes, best practices and protocols."
TASER International offers an extensive train-the-trainer course that teaches participants to instruct end-users in their own departments. The 16-hour course discusses CED technology, electricity, medical research, the body's response to exposure, and correct use of the device, then hosts several firing drills. To qualify as a certified trainer, participants must shoot five or more cartridges, pass a written test and retake the class every two years.
Because it's critical that this instruction match state and local standards, departments should tailor manufacturer training to their own needs. In Colorado, Sailor must ensure curriculum dovetails state policies and Colorado Association of Chief's of Police (CAPS) standards, so he sprinkles TASER's curriculum with information from Westminster's own policy handbook. He supplements TASER's program with the department's definition of less-lethal force, approved CED target zones, legal updates, deployment justifications, situations where it can and cannot be used, and reporting requirements. Participants must pass a written test after they've completed this 6-hour class, and re-certify annually.
Westminster recently added realistic CED training drills to its training regime, using TASER's live simulation cartridges. These cartridges send probes downrange, minus the conductive wire, at subjects wearing protective padded suits. Such scenarios allow officers to fire at a moving subject rather than simply shoot at a foil target. Sailor plans to make this hands-on, dynamic training part of the annual re-certification process.
Training also must review methods to help officers determine when the tool's use is justified and when it's necessary. The two don't always agree, Ijames explains, pointing to cases where uses were justified by policy but largely unnecessary. The mission should be to safely handcuff the subject with as little force as possible. "Departments want to create a line that says CED justification present, let's assess the actual necessity," he says.
He also promotes student exposure during training. Westminster, Springfield and Seattle encourage officer exposures but do not mandate them. They say experiencing the device firsthand helps students fully understand its effects. "I think you will use this force safely and more effectively if you've been exposed," Ijames says. "It makes you better able to appreciate the issue of restraint."
Sailor stresses he considers instructor exposure a must. A lack of this experience undermines an instructor's credibility, he says. Their credibility further plummets during court testimony. The fact they've never been exposed won't sit well with a judge or jury.
When it comes to these devices, the name game pales in comparison to the nuts and bolts of policy, training and community outreach. With these three things in place, a CED becomes a tool departments cannot live without.
Nine steps to effective CED deployment
"Electro-Muscular Disruption Technology: A Nine Step Strategy for Effective Deployment," a document from the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), outlines the steps to follow as an agency selects, acquires and uses CEDs.
The IACP plan recommends the following:
Step 1: Build a leadership team. A CED leadership team comprised of command staff, trainers, legal counsel, a media liaison, and so on can address issues relative to acquisition, costs, policies, training, liability and evaluation.
Step 2: Place CEDs on the use-of-force continuum.
Step 3: Access the costs and benefits of using CEDs.
Step 4: Identify roles and responsibilities for CED deployment. Who will make procurement decisions, develop policy documents, establish a training curriculum, specify training requirements, handle post incident evaluations and engage the community?
Step 5: Organize community outreach. How will your department educate the community at large about these devices, how they work and why they're used?
Step 6: Develop policies and procedures for CED use. Here you write out decisions about operational considerations such as use, training, reporting requirements, medical evaluations and legal constraints.
Step 7: Create a comprehensive training program for CED deployment.
Step 8: Utilize a phased deployment/implementation approach for CEDs.
Step 9: Assess CED use and determine next steps. Departments should conduct follow up assessments of CED use to determine whether the technology is performing as expected, and if officers are complying with department policies.
The IACP report can be found at www.theiacp.org/research/RCDCuttingEdgeTech.htm.