Topic:
LIABILITY (LAW); POLICE DEPARTMENTS; WEAPONS;
Location:
LIABILITY, LEGAL; POLICE;

OLR Research Report


January 18, 2007

 

2007-R-0068

TASER USE GUIDELINES

 

By: Veronica Rose, Principal Analyst

You asked us to compare the guidelines for Taser use recommended by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) with those recommended by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF).

SUMMARY

The Taser, which is manufactured by Taser International Inc., is an electronic defense weapon. Electronic defense weapons (also called electro-muscular disruption technology or conducted energy devices use “a high voltage, lower power charge of electricity to induce involuntary muscle contractions that cause temporary incapacitation.”

In light of increasing police use of the weapons and concerns about associated risks and liability, IACP has designed a nine-step strategy to help “law enforcement agencies develop policies, procedures and training curricula that are responsive and relevant to the communities they serve.” PERF has developed independent guidelines concerning use of the weapons.

IACP recommends that departments selecting, acquiring, and using electronic weapons:

1. establish a leadership team to address acquisition, cost, policy, training, liability, evaluation, and other related issues;

2. determine where to place the weapon on the department's use-of-force continuum (e.g., at the same level as firearms or at the lower level of pepper spray);

3. assess the costs and benefits of using the weapons (including indirect and hidden costs);

4. define the roles and responsibilities of staff with respect to the use of the weapons;

5. implement a community outreach strategy to allay public and media concerns;

6. adopt a comprehensive policy for users and other staff on use, training, safety, and reporting requirements; medical evaluations; legal issues; and operational and post-incident procedures;

7. provide officers with comprehensive training to comply with the policy;

8. introduce the weapons in phases (e.g., starting with a test program), affording the time and opportunity to monitor use; and

9. evaluate the test program to determine if the weapons worked as expected and officers complied with department policy.

While IACP addresses a broad spectrum of issues pertaining to the weapons and provides a framework and order for dealing with them, PERF generally focuses on use issues, including safety, training, and operational protocols.

With regard to use, which seems to generate the most public concern, PERF suggests prohibiting the following, among others: use on passive subjects, pregnant women, elderly persons, young children, and handcuffed persons. IACP recommends that department policy (1) establish when and under what circumstances officers may use the weapons and (2) clearly state inappropriate uses.

The guidelines are available at the IACP website at www.theiacp.org/research. Copies are attached.

BACKGROUND

Electronic Defense Weapons

Electronic defense weapons are designed to incapacitate at a distance without causing serious physical injury or death, according to manufacturers of the weapons. Two metal barbs or probes attached to wires are propelled by either gunpowder or nitrogen gas into a target. Once the barbs are embedded in the target, the weapon delivers an electrical charge through the wires to the barbs, incapacitating the target by causing muscle contraction and loss of body control. The shock usually lasts for about five seconds.

Law enforcement officers value the weapons as a highly effective alternative to deadly force. More than 8,000 law enforcement, correctional, and military agencies in 43 countries are using Tasers, according to Taser International, the leading supplier of electronic defense weapons. At least 71 Connecticut police departments, including the State Police, are using Tasers, and at least another 27 have evaluated or are currently evaluating them, according to a 2006 legislative report based on Taser International data (OLR Report 2006-R-0166). But electronic defense weapons are controversial and their growing use has sparked public and media concerns. These include concerns about regulation, safety, liability, and risks. Much of the controversy has been fueled by highly publicized incidents involving (1) what appears to be misuse of the weapons (e.g., use on passive or at-risk individuals) and (2) deaths (including some in Connecticut) linked to (though not necessarily caused by) the weapons.

In 2005, IACP developed a nine-step strategy for guiding law enforcement entities “as they select, acquire, and use” the weapons. According to IACP, departments should use the strategy “to engage . . . communities in a partnership to develop policies and procedures that reflect public safety priorities and provide clear and concise instructions for using less-lethal force option.” In 2005, PERF developed its own 52-point guideline for use of the weapons.

IACP GUIDELINES

Step 1—Establish a Leadership Team

IACP recommends that a police department planning to acquire electronic defense weapons should establish a leadership team to address such issues as acquisition, cost, policy, training, liability, and evaluation. To ensure a complete and objective assessment of the issues, the team should include a broad range of interested parties. These include management, training, policy, field, and budget staff; community and media representatives; legal counsel; medical practitioners; and representatives of a governing or oversight body.

Step 2—Place Electronic Defense Weapons on the Use-of-Force Continuum

A use-of-force policy provides police officers with guidelines on the degree of force appropriate when responding to a subject, “based on the subject's action, the officer's perception of the situation, and the available types of officer responses.” A use-of-force continuum is a visual representation of the range of force options that officers may use in responding to a subject's actions. Generally, they should employ the minimum amount of force necessary under the circumstances.

The leadership team should determine where to place electronic defense weapons on the use-of–force continuum, based on an assessment of the technology and review of use-of-force principles. It may reposition them on the continuum based on changes in the principles, new research information, and evaluations of actual use-of-force incidents, among other things.

Step 3—Assess the Costs and Benefits of Using the Weapons

A critical consideration in acquiring electronic defense weapons is the relative costs and benefits of using the technology, according to IACP. Departments should consider:

1. direct financial costs (e.g. equipment purchase and training);

2. indirect financial costs or savings (e.g., from civil rights claims or costs associated with evaluating incidents);

3. hidden financial costs (such as the cost incurred in developing community outreach programs);

4. the costs and benefits of alternative less lethal technology options;

5. liability for injuries (including lost time on the job, workers compensation claims, and court awards);

6. the impact of deployment on other department goals or functions (e.g. community relations); and

7. whether use of the weapons will reduce the use of lethal force and the risk of serious injuries and deaths in resolving violent confrontations.

Step 4—-Identify Staff Roles and Responsibilities

To ensure accountability, departments should have a dedicated chain-of-command to manage the technology. Employees should be given clearly defined roles and responsibilities, and objective, reliable, and relevant information about the technology, its limits, and the goals of deployment.

Step 5—Engage in Community Outreach

To allay media and public concerns and gain public acceptance of the weapons, departments should implement community outreach programs. The programs should inform the public about (1) the technology and its capabilities; (2) its effectiveness as an alternative to deadly force; (3) the cost and benefits of using the technology (e.g., in reducing officer and suspect injuries); and (4) evaluative data on the weapons.

Department policy should indicate when, and under what circumstances, the media should be contacted about incidents involving the use of the weapons.

Step 6—Develop Policies and Procedures for Use of the Weapons

Policy Specifications. IACP recommends that, before authorizing the use of electronic defense weapons, departments develop written policies on use; training and reporting requirements; medical procedures; legal constraints; and other operational considerations.

Policies should (1) state explicitly when officers may use the weapons; (2) specify inappropriate uses (e.g. as punishment or near potentially flammable, volatile, or explosive material); and (3) outline the laws on use-of-force. They may also limit use of the weapons, even in circumstances where it is otherwise legal.

The team should determine if officers may use the weapons on:

1. fleeing suspects and, if so, under what circumstances;

2. persons with known or visible impairments indicating compromised health;

3. mentally challenged persons or vulnerable populations (such as children, the elderly, and pregnant women); or

4. people to force compliance.

The team must also consider under what circumstances multiple discharges and direct contact (stun) would be permissible. Policies should also clearly specify (1) who may carry the weapons, (2) where they will be worn, and (3) whether the department should assign them to individual officers or supervisory personnel.

Medical Protocols. The policy should contain medical protocols for:

1. removing darts from sensitive areas (e.g., face, head, breasts, genitals);

2. removing and disposing of biohazardous material;

3. providing medical help to people hit by a discharge;

4. transporting injured subjects to a designated hospital or clinic; and

5. monitoring suspects in custody.

The policy may provide for varying responses depending upon the circumstances.

Reports. Policies should require that officials report and document their use of electronic defense weapons. Among other things, this allows for evaluations of the effectiveness and reliability of the weapons. Policies may also establish a mechanism for department review and investigation of incidents. They should address whether a weapon should be removed from service pending an investigation, sent to an independent lab for testing and evaluation, or both.

Step 7—Establish a Comprehensive Training Program

Departments should have comprehensive training programs on electronic defense weapons, including testing, certification, and recertification procedures. Before arming officers with the weapons, departments should ensure that officers achieve technical proficiency in the use of the weapons and understand department policies and procedures governing them.

Instructors should teach officers about:

1. the capabilities and limits of the technology in terms of its effectiveness,

2. the need for sound justification when discharging the weapons,

3. proper incident-reporting procedures, and

4. manufacturer's guidelines for maintaining and calibrating weapons to ensure that they perform as intended with regard to (a) incapacitating a target and (b) recording incidents for report verification and validation purposes.

Instructors should include (1) lessons and “simulations structured for situations where less-lethal force options are chosen,” (2) “hands-on exercises using test cartridges and foil targets that simulate human subjects,” (3) “scenario-based exercises,” and (4) written tests.

Step 8—Deploy the Weapons in Phases

Departments should implement a pilot phase for testing the weapons and monitoring their use and maintain the test data (including reports of injuries or in-custody deaths) for evaluation purposes. In practice, some departments initially limit the distribution of the weapons to (1) specialized units (e.g., SWAT teams), (2) patrol officers, or (3) supervisors or select officers to use in special situations. This approach gives departments greater flexibility to recall the weapons if circumstances warrant or costs become prohibitive.

Step 9—Evaluate the Technology and Officer Compliance

Departments should evaluate the test program and determine if (1) the weapons performed as expected, (2) officers complied with department policies and procedures, (3) policies and procedures were adequate, (4) policy or procedural changes are appropriate, and (5) full deployment is justified.

Departments should update policies and protocols when new information becomes available.

PERF GUIDELINES

Unlike IACP, PERF has not outlined a framework or strategy for implementing its 52 guidelines. And PERF generally focuses on use issues, while IACP covers other issues pertaining to acquisition, selection, and evaluation.

Safety Issues

The weapons should be used only on people (1) actively resisting or exhibiting active aggression or (2) at risk of harming themselves or others, according to PERF. And the fact that a subject is fleeing should not be the sole justification for police to use the weapons. The weapons should not be used:

1. on passive subjects;

2. on pregnant women, elderly persons, young children, or visibly frail individuals (except under exigent circumstances);

3. on handcuffed individuals (unless they are actively resisting or exhibiting active aggression or at risk of harming themselves or anyone else);

4. on anyone located where a fall may cause substantial injury or death (except under exigent circumstances);

5. on anyone in physical control of a moving vehicle, including cars, trucks, motorcycles, ATVs, bicycles, and scooters, (except under exigent circumstances); or

6. in any area known to contain combustible or flammable liquids or substance.

PERF also recommends that:

1. officers avoid firing darts at a subject's head, neck, and genitals;

2. anyone shocked with a weapon be evaluated by a medic and monitored regularly while in police custody;

3. officers do not use any restraint technique that impairs respiration on anyone shocked with a weapon;

4. officers be made aware of the increased risk of sudden death of people under the influence of drugs and “symptoms associated with excited delirium”;

5. police remove darts that have penetrated the skin only if trained to do so, and only medical personnel should remove darts that have penetrated a person's sensitive areas;

6. agencies seek help from medical personnel to develop appropriate medical protocols on the weapons and, when possible, notify emergency medical personnel when officers respond to calls in which it is anticipated that they may use their weapons; and

7. agencies consider initiating use-of-force investigations outside the chain-of-command anytime a person is seriously injured or exposed to a prolonged activation or an officer used the weapon (a) in a punitive or abusive manner, (b) substantially contrary to department policy, or (c) on anyone in an at-risk category.

The guidelines specify the types of information that every substantial investigation.

Training

PERF recommends that agencies:

1. adopt a stand-alone policy and training curriculum for electronic defense weapons and all less-lethal weapons and ensure that they are integrated with the department's use-of-force policy;

2. ensure that a manufacturer's training consistent with their use-of-force policies and values and that they do not rely solely on a manufacturer's training curriculum;

3. teach officers about the capabilities and limitations of stun technology (including the optimum range of the weapons, how weather affects their capabilities, and how different barbs perform);

4. require, at least, annual user certification that covers physical competency, policy and technology changes, and reviews of local and national trends in the use of the weapons;

5. conduct frequent audits to ensure that users are appropriately trained and certified;

6. emphasize in training protocols that multiple activations of the weapons appear to increase the risk of death or serious injury and should be avoided where practical; and

7. provide training for supervisors and command staff so they can make educated decisions about administrative investigations they review; and

Exposure to weapons activation in training should be voluntary, and volunteers should be apprised of the risks.

Operational Procedures

Officers should:

1. issue warnings before activating an electronic defense weapon (unless doing so would endanger another person);

2. when applicable, alert other officers at an incident scene of their intent to activate a weapon;

3. use brightly colored weapons (e.g., yellow) thereby reducing the risk of escalating force and decreasing the possibility that a secondary unit mistakes the weapon for a firearm;

4. carry the weapon on their weak support side to avoid accidentally drawing or firing their sidearm;

5. set their weapons in the “probe mode” as the primary option, and use “stun mode” as a secondary option; and

6. use the weapon for one standard cycle and stop to evaluate the situation. If subsequent cycles are necessary, agency policy should restrict the number and duration to the minimum activations necessary to control the situation.

Only one officer should activate a weapon against a person at any time.

Supervisors' Responsibilities

A supervisor should respond to all incident scenes where an electronic defense is activated and conduct an initial review of the incident. Supervisors, when possible, should anticipate on-scene officers' use of their weapons by responding to calls that have a high probability for arrest, use of the weapon, or both.

Documentation and Auditing Guidelines

PERF recommends that:

1. users document the use of weapons (i.e., discharges or activations, including accidents) in use-of-force reports;

2. departments conduct random audits of data from the weapons and use-of-force reports and address inconsistencies; and

3. departments track, maintain, and constantly analyze the data to identify use trends and concerns, and make the statistics available to the public.

Community Outreach

As is the case with IACP, PERF recommends a community outreach strategy to allay public concern on the weapons. It recommends that agencies implement programs to inform the public, media, and others (e.g., citizen review boards, health professionals, and the legal community) about the weapons. Also, agencies should provide extensive training on the weapons to their public information officers to deal with pubic concerns about the weapons.

Miscellaneous

Under PERF guidelines:

1. If department policy allows officers to use their own weapons on duty, the policy should dictate specifications, regulations, and qualifications, and the officers should register the weapons with the department. The policy should regulate the weapons while officers are off duty under rules similar to those governing officers' service firearms (including storage, transportation, use, etc.,).

2. Department policy should indicate whether officers may use the weapons against animals.

3. If auxiliary and reserve officers may carry the weapons, they should be trained and certified like regular officers.

4. If a person armed with an electronic defense weapon attacks or threatens to attack a police officer, the officer may defend himself to avoid becoming incapacitated or being disarmed.

5. Departments should enter into collaborative agreements with adjacent jurisdictions addressing training policies and protocols governing electronic defense weapons.

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