Topic:
LEGISLATION; WEAPONS; POLICE DEPARTMENTS;
Location:
POLICE;

OLR Research Report


February 24, 2006

 

2006-R-0166

TASER USE BY CONNECTICUT POLICE DEPARTMENTS

By: Veronica Rose, Principal Analyst

Adam Wolkoff, Legislative Fellow

You asked how many Connecticut police departments are using tasers and what policies govern their use.

SUMMARY

A taser is an electronic defense weapon. At least 71 Connecticut police departments, including the State Police, use tasers, and at least another 27 have evaluated or are currently evaluating them, according to Taser International data. Most of the departments own fewer than 50 tasers. Waterbury, with 190, has the most. The State Police has five. The State Capitol Police evaluated the weapons but was denied funding to buy them.

The 13 departments we randomly contacted by telephone or email all indicated that they have written taser policies. The seven policies we describe in this report vary widely in scope and level of detail. Typically, they cover authorized uses and users; training, certification, and recertification requirements; use and operational standards; and post use procedures, including documentation requirements and treatment of persons subjected to taser shocks.

Some of the more comprehensive policies cover other issues, including safety considerations, weapon inspection, and investigations of taser use.

All of the policies we reviewed (1) require taser users to be trained and certified, (2) set standards for taser use, (3) require officers to document and report taser use; and (4) set procedures that officers must follow when they use a taser.

Only Danbury's policy allows suspension of an officer's authority to carry tasers for just cause. Only the State Police policy specifies where an officer should aim the taser (below head and neck), although Danbury's policy references its use-of-force policy for specific guidelines on application. And only the State Police policy requires a supervisory review of every case in which an officer deploys a taser.

We have attached for your review policies from Cromwell, Danbury, and the State Police.

TASERS

The taser is an “electro muscular disruption weapon” designed to incapacitate without causing serious physical injury or death. It is a type of electronic defense weapon. Several companies manufacture electronic defense weapons, including stun guns, but Taser International is the sole manufacturer of tasers. The company, located in Arizona, produces various models, including the M26 and X26, which it sells to law enforcement entities, and the M18 models, which the general public can buy. The M26 model costs $400; the X26 costs $800. Both operate in essentially the same way, but the X26 is newer, smaller, and lighter than the M26 model.

TASER USE BY CONNECTICUT POLICE DEPARTMENTS

Under CGS 53-206 and 29-38, it is illegal for anyone other than a peace officer to carry electronic defense weapons upon his person or in a vehicle. (RB 105, currently before the Public Safety Committee, would apply the ban to sales, without exceptions.) At least 70 local Connecticut police departments and the State Police are using tasers (see Attachment 1). They include large departments such as Bloomfield, East Hartford, Greenwich, Waterbury, and West Hartford, and small departments such as Canton, Easton, and Granby. According to Taser International data, the Connecticut department with the largest number of tasers is Waterbury (190), followed by Meriden with 64 and Norwalk with 59. The State Police has five.

At least another 27 departments are either evaluating tasers or did so in the past few years. They include the State Capitol Police, which was denied funding to buy them; large departments such as Bridgeport, Hartford, and Stamford; and small departments such as Prospect and Putnam (see Attachment 2).

TASER ASSIGNMENTS TO OFFICERS

Anecdotal information suggests that departments that use tasers want to arm all of their sworn officers with them. Currently however, they are unable to do so because they do not have enough tasers. The most common practice appears to be for departments to assign the tasers to patrol officers, who are most likely to encounter situations requiring their use. Danbury assigns one taser to the training officer and two to the Special Investigations Division. It requires all patrol officers to carry the taser and encourages other officers to carry them. It also requires officers to carry tasers when in marked squad cars and encourages officers in unmarked cars to carry them as well. The State Police assigns its tasers to officers in the tactical unit.

TASER POLICIES

Six departments provided us with copies of their policies. These are Bloomfield, Cromwell, Danbury, Seymour, West Hartford, and the State Police. East Hartford summarized the major provisions of its policy in an email to our office.

The policies from these seven departments uniformly address training and certification; taser use (sometimes called deployment); and procedures officers must follow after deploying their tasers, including the kind of aid they must provide to people subjected to taser shocks and the kinds of reports they must complete. We have summarized the major provisions of these seven policies below.

Training and Certification Requirements

All seven departments require officers to be trained and certified before they are authorized to use tasers. They also require that users and instructors be recertified periodically (usually every year for users and every two years for instructors). In most departments, training for initial certification is four hours. West Hartford requires eight hours. Taser training is in addition to required firearms and use-of-force training for police officers.

Taser International offers both user and instructor training and recertification courses. The most common practice is for police officers certified as instructors by Taser International to train other officers. Danbury and West Hartford, for example, have three officers certified as training instructors.

Taser Use Protocols

Use-of-force policies provide general guidelines for police officers to follow in determining what level of force to apply in any given situation. Six of the seven departments have separate use-of-force policies for tasers. Cromwell's policy is incorporated in its general use-of-force policy.

Two departments, Cromwell and Seymour, place taser use on the same level as OC spray on the use-of-force continuum. The former authorizes officers to deploy tasers at their discretion in situations such as the following:

1. when a person exhibits violent or potentially violent behavior that threatens the safety of others and attempts to subdue by conventional means have been or appear too unlikely to be effective;

2. when it is unsafe to get within contact range of the subject;

3. when the use of deadly force is justified and an opportunity exists to use the taser, deploy the taser if available; and

4. when a prisoner's behavior warrants classification in any of the above.

State Police policy authorizes the use of tasers when the use of less lethal options would help effect an arrest, restore order, or reduce the risk of more serious injury. Under the policy, an officer is justified in using the taser in the following situations, for example:

1. to restore or maintain order during prison disturbances;

2. to restore or maintain order during very violent civil disturbances where innocent people may be rescued or where police are confronted with a level of force likely to cause serious physical injury such as Molotov cocktails being thrown or dangerous weapons or instruments are being used;

3. to subdue vicious animals; or

4. to safely resolve a situation or incident, where the authorizing person deems its use necessary to resolve.

Danbury's policy lists taser use as an intermediate force option on the use-of-force continuum. It specifies that intermediate force options are “designed for use against subjects exhibiting behavior that qualifies as active resistance or aggression, assault or threat of assault or life threatening assault, or assaults likely to cause great bodily harm.”

Bloomfield requires officers to use tasers in accordance with the department's use-of-force policy. West Hartford requires officers to use tasers in accordance with department policy, using “only that level of force reasonably necessary to control or otherwise subdue violent or potentially violent individuals.”

Post Use Protocols

Dealing with Persons Subjected to Taser Shock. Tasers fire two metal barbs attached to wires. The charge incapacitates by causing the muscles to contract. The probes can penetrate the skin up to one-quarter inches, depending on a variety of factors (e.g., distance from the subject).

All the policies include standards for removing probes that penetrate an individual's skin. In Seymour and West Hartford, medical personnel remove probes embedded in sensitive areas, and police officers remove probes in all other areas. Medical personnel remove the probes under the Bloomfield, Danbury, and State Police policies, except that the police officer may remove them under the Danbury policy in “exigent circumstances.” Cromwell's policy appears to give discretion to the officer. The policy states that “if the Taser barbs become imbedded . . . in the subject, the supervisor will have discretion as to having the subject transported to the hospital by ambulance or by the arresting officer. If there is no skin penetration, the subject does not have to be taken for medical treatment.” (East Hartford did not provide information on probe removal.)

As with probe removal, the medical aid provisions vary. Under the State Police policy, the officer must render immediate first aid to a subject he strikes with a taser, if necessary, and then transport the subject to a medical facility. Similarly, Danbury requires medical personnel to evaluate anyone an officer strikes with a taser. Cromwell requires medical treatment for subjects, but only in cases where the probe penetrates the skin. Seymour gives officers discretion to summon medical aid, as necessary, except if the probe penetrates a sensitive area, the policy requires emergency medical services personnel to render medical assistance. (East Hartford did not provide information on probe removal.)

Documentation of Taser Use. All seven departments require officers who deploy tasers to report the use, usually to a supervisor, on a taser incident form or other department form. In addition to the official taser form, state police officers must complete a written report, detailing their observations, any commands they gave before deploying the taser, approximate distance from the subject, description of the subject and his clothing, point of aim and impact, and a description of the subject's reaction. Anecdotal information suggests that similar information is included in the reports that the other six departments complete.

All seven policies require officers to take and include in their reports photographs of the areas of the body hit by a taser probe.

Review of Reports and Investigations. Both the State Police and West Hartford Police Department require departmental review of taser reports. Under the West Hartford policy, the assistant chief reviews individual reports, and the training lieutenant does an annual review. The State Police requires a supervisor to review all instances of taser use and determine if the weapon was used in compliance with department policy. Danbury requires the review when the officer deploys the taser under exceptional circumstances. “Exceptional circumstances” are those “where a person sustains a substantial injury, where an officer strikes a target inconsistent with training guidelines, where injuries are inconsistent with the normal performance of the device, and/or where improper use of the taser is shown or suspected.”

Bloomfield, Cromwell, and Seymour's policies do not address review and investigation.

Miscellaneous

Weapon Inspection. All the policies, except the State Police policy, require users to conduct some kind of test or inspection of the weapon before they go into the field to ensure that it is working. The most common practice is for officers to do the check at the beginning of each shift.

Carrying Tasers. Four of the policies specify how officers must carry the weapons. Both Danbury and West Hartford require officers to carry the taser in an approved holster on the support side of the body opposite the officer's handgun. This is the only common element. Seymour requires the weapon to be carried with an air cartridge loaded into the deployment port. Bloomfield requires that officers load batteries into the device but no cartridge in the deployment port. And West Hartford requires batteries in the device along with a cartridge loaded in the deployment port.

Taser Misuse. Only Danbury's policy allows suspension of an officer's authority to carry tasers for just cause. The policy does not define just cause.

Attachment 1: Connecticut Police Departments Using Tasers

 

Department

 

Department

 

Department

1

Ansonia*

25

Hamden*

49

South Windsor*

2

Avon

26

Manchester

50

Southbury

3

Bethel

27

Meriden

51

Southern Connecticut State University

4

Bloomfield*

28

Middlebury

52

Stratford

5

Bristol

29

Middletown

53

Suffield

6

Brookfield

30

Milford

54

Torrington

7

Canton

31

Monroe

55

Trumbull

8

Cheshire

32

New Britain

56

UConn

9

Clinton

33

New Canaan

57

Vernon

10

Cromwell*

34

New Haven

58

Wallingford

11

Danbury*

35

New London*

59

Waterbury

12

Darien

36

New Milford

60

Waterford

13

East Hartford*

37

Newington

61

West Hartford*

14

East Lyme

38

Newtown

62

West Haven

15

East Windsor

39

North Branford

63

Weston

16

Easton

40

North Haven

64

Wethersfield*

17

Enfield

41

Norwalk

65

Wilton

18

Farmington

42

Norwich*

66

Windsor Locks

19

Glastonbury*

43

Orange

67

Windsor

20

Granby

44

Plymouth

68

Wolcott

21

Greenwich*

45

Portland

69

Woodbridge

22

Groton City

46

Redding

70

State Police*

23

Groton

47

Seymour*

71

Mashantucket Pequot Tribe Police

24

Guilford

48

Shelton

   

* Departments Randomly Selected for Policies

Source: Taser International data, provided by Jay Kehoe, Eastern Regional Manager for Taser International

Attachment 2: Departments That Have Evaluated or are Evaluating Tasers

 

Department

 

Department

1

Berlin

15

Ridgefield

2

Bridgeport

16

Southbury

3

Coventry

17

Southington

4

East Haddam

18

Stamford

5

Eastern Connecticut State

19

Stonington

6

Fairfield

20

Trumbull

7

Hartford

21

Warren

8

Madison

22

Watertown

9

Montville

23

Wethersfield

10

Naugatuck

24

Western Connecticut

11

New Fairfield

25

Woodbury

12

Plainfield

26

Yale University

13

Prospect

27

State Capitol Police

14

Putnam

   

Source: Taser International data, provided by Jay Kehoe, Eastern Regional Manager for Taser International

Attachment 3: Highlights of Select Police Department Taser Policies*

Dept.

No. of Tasers Owned by Dept.

Officers to Whom Tasers are Assigned

Training/

And Initial Certificat-ion

Training Instructors

Recertification Requirement

Weapon Inspection

Probe Removal/ Medical Attention

Documentation of Taser Use

Review/Investigation

Bloomfield

5

Supervisors and patrol officers

Yes

Department members certified by Taser International as instructors

Every two years

Readiness test at beginning of each shift and annually by taser certified instructor

Officers provide medical aid, except if the probes penetrate the subject's skin, they must transport him to hospital

Incident Report

Policy does not address

Cromwell

15

All sworn officers and detectives All patrol vehicles;

4 hours

Department members certified by Taser International as instructors

Annual (1 hour)

When officer inspects vehicle

Supervisor has discretion as to who removes the barb

Use of Force Supplemental Report

Policy does not address

Danbury

34

Patrol officers and officers working extra-duty jobs in marked squad cars must carry tasers; non-patrol officers and officers working extra duty jobs in unmarked cars are encouraged to carry them.

4 hours

Department members certified by Taser International as instructors

Annual (2 hours plus requalification with the taser)

Spark test at beginning of each shift

Medical personnel remove probes except officer might do so under exigent circumstances;

Medical personnel must evaluate subject

Incident Report and Response to Resistance form

Chain-of-command review of all cases where weapon deployed in exceptional circumstances; supervisors may review other deployments

East Hartford

28 (plans to add another 20 in next few weeks)

Patrol officers

Yes

Department members certified by Taser International as instructors

Annual

Readiness check at beginning of each shift

Officers provide first aid at scene or arrange for subject to be transported

Department report

Records maintained for annual reports

Seymour

Not reported

Not reported (authorized for use by all officers who have completed taser training)

Yes

Department members certified by Taser International as instructors

Policy silent

Readiness test when issued

Officer, with exception, renders first aid and removes probe

Taser Use Report

Policy does not address

W. Hartford

24 tasers

Most assigned to patrol officers and officers on traffic duty

8 hours

Department members certified by Taser International as instructors

Annual

Spark check at beginning of each shift

Officer removes probe, unless embedded in sensitive areas

Department's incident report and Taser Use Report

Assistant chief reviews each report; training lieutenant produces annual report for review and analysis

State Police

5 tasers

Officers in the Tactical Unit

4.5 hours

Department members certified by Taser International as instructors

Annual

Function test before every tactical call

Medics or medically trained personnel remove probes that penetrate the skin;

Officers render immediate first aid then transport subject to medical facility.

Use of Force report required

Supervisor investigate all uses

*Information is based on a review of department policies and department responses to specific questions about their policies or both. East Harford's is based solely on information the department provided in an email response to our office.