Five before Midnight

This site is dedicated to the continuous oversight of the Riverside(CA)Police Department, which was formerly overseen by the state attorney general. This blog will hopefully play that role being free of City Hall's micromanagement.
"The horror of that moment," the King went on, "I shall never, never forget." "You will though," the Queen said, "if you don't make a memorandum of it." --Lewis Carroll


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Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Tasers: Shock in a box

First in a series

Tasers are and have been on the minds of many people in the wake of the shooting of Lee Deante Brown last April by Officer Terry Ellefson, who hence forward in the wake of the most recent state supreme court decision will be known as "Officer A".

This is what the taser of today looks like. It still comes in a box, but they look more similar to the firearms that police officers use today than the way they used to look.

Taser M26 and X26 product information

An individual kindly passed along their copies of Policy # 4.30 which is the department's use of force policy and Policy # 4.43 which is the department's policy governing taser use and deployment. Both policies had been revised in 2004 and it is not clear whether or not they have been revised since. The department has declined to even respond to a CPRA request by providing copies of these and other policies. It also declined to provide copies of these policies last May until the completion of the department's investigation of the Lee Deante Brown shooting, according to a department representative. But then again, whether or not the department has purchased any digital video recorders in the past six months is more top secret than a CIA briefing so such developments must be taken in stride.

Policy 4.43 defines the taser as follows. It is a definition which is in common use when describing this electronic device.

The taser is a nonlethal hand held electronic mobilization device that propels a pair of tiny dart contracts into the skin or clothing of a noncompliant, violent or physically combative subject. An electrical current passes through these contracts into the body of a subject causing instantaneous muscle spasm and loss of balance.

Policy 4.30 also defines the taser as a "nonlethal control device". Taser International, Inc., the company that markets similar "electronic mobilization devices" states in its advertising that the devices it sells including its X26 model are indeed nonlethal.

But are they?

After all, when used properly and according to the instructions provided by their manufacturers, nonlethal devices should not kill. Yet, tasers including the M26 and X26 have killed and do kill in particular situations. Over 75 recorded deaths since 2001 in the United States and Canada, according to a study done by Amnesty International, a human rights organization. An updated report cited at least 105 deaths resulting from tasers in the past five years.

Taser International, Inc. in its own report insists that all of these deaths are due to outside factors including preexisting medical illness and drug use, hence its ability to market the device as nonlethal. But the experts including those who study those medical illnesses themselves are not sure themselves what is causing the deaths. Five recent deaths associated with the use of tasers involved people without a history of either medical illnesses or drug use and these incidents appear to be on the increase. Clearly, this is an issue that needs closer examination. Perhaps, the devices should receive a classification as "less lethal", a designation assigned to other use of force options(i.e. rubber bullets and other projectiles) which have caused deaths in a relatively small number of individuals who they have been used on. The use of nonlethal appears to be a misnomer.

Amnesty International has published many articles expressing its concerns about the use of tasers or "stun guns" in the United States. Although it agrees that it is important for law enforcement officers to be equipped with nonlethal or "less lethal" options, the organization was concerned that a device that could inflict severe pain at the push of a button would be ripe for abuse by unscrupulous persons. They cited many cases where this was clearly the case. Cases of officers tasing six-year-old children in schools(for some reason, Florida is the child tasing capitol of the United States), officers tasing people repeatedly and officers tasing individuals who are already either handcuffed or have been restrained have been documented.

Amnesty International was also concerned about the common use of tasers in particular situations and against certain groups of people.

(excerpt, A.I. position paper)

There is also evidence to suggest that, far from being used to avoid lethal force, many US police agencies are deploying tasers as a routine force option to subdue non-compliant or disturbed individuals who do not pose a serious danger to themselves or others. In some departments, tasers have become the most prevalent force tool. They have been used against unruly school children; unarmed mentally disturbed or intoxicated individuals; suspects fleeing minor crime scenes and people who argue with police or fail to comply immediately with a command. Cases described in this report include the stunning of a 15-year-old schoolgirl in Florida, following a dispute on a bus, and a 13- year-old girl in Arizona, who threw a book in a public library

The RPD's policy on taser deployment states that the taser may be used to take a noncompliant, violent or physically combative subject into custody in order to reduce or minimize the chance of injury to the subject and to the arresting officer(s). The policy also states that it shall not be used on subjects who are passively resisting arrest nor shall it be generally aimed at the head, neck or genital areas. No member of the department is allowed to carry or deploy a taser without receiving proper certification except in emergency situations if an authorized person is prohibited from doing so. The training of officers is the sole responsibility of the Force Training Unit supervisor and any other qualified taser trainers. All officers equipped with tasers are to be reevaluated bi-yearly.

Unlike with some law enforcement agencies, there appears to be no restrictions on tasing people who are fleeing in 4.43. In fact, a young man was tased by an officer in the Canyoncrest Shopping Center several months ago, apparently for this reason. There is no language in 4.43 whether an officer is allowed to use his taser without other officers present to back him up in case it fails, as there is included with the use of other less lethal options. There is no language on whether or not more than one officer is allowed to deploy his taser at the same time. But, there are restrictions against using the tasers in some instances.

Policy 4.43 states that tasers shall not be used in the following situations:

1. People in control of moving vehicles

2. Women known to be pregnant

3. People known to have diseased or weak hearts

4. Obviously debilitated people or elderly people who are known to be at greater risk in all circumstances especially from medical injuries

5. Children under the age of 12

6. People with obvious or known neuromuscular disorders, i.e. Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy, Epilepsy

7. People known to be wearing pacemakers or other biomedical devices

8. People known to be in danger of falling to their death or being caught in dangerous equipment or machinery

9. People who are known to be in close proximity to flammable liquids, gases or any substance that could be ignited or exploded by a spark

These groups of people share in common the fact that they would face greater risk of experiencing harmful side effects if they were tased. Amnesty International lists the tasing of young children, pregnant women and the elderly as an area of special concern in its report. Many departments that organization it surveyed did not have written policies exempting these groups from being tased. For example, less than 10% of the agencies it surveyed has policies prohibiting the tasing of children. The RPD would fall within that smaller group, at least up to the age of 12.

Unlike people who are young children, or who are elderly, it is not always possible to know when women are pregnant particularly in their first trimester. Often, it is left to the woman or someone else to disclose the pregnancy. In one case, an officer in an agency had tased a pregnant woman without knowing it and then after being told she was pregnant, he ceased the tasing and used another form of restraint. There is also the possibility that a woman could say she was pregnant when she was not to avoid being tased, but since there are health risks associated with a pregnant woman being tased it is often called upon for the officer to use another form of restraint. Even Taser International, Inc. states that a pregnant woman who is tased with one of their products is at risk of miscarriage or injury from falling but insists that the electric shock itself poses no harm to pregnant women and their fetuses. However, there are no conclusive studies defending that argument either.

The American College of Emergency Physicians states that there was very little literature on how to handle pregnant women who had been tased. That organization also postulated that a condition known as "excited delirium" might be responsible for some of the deaths from people who are tased, but could not state so definitely.

Management of taser injuries

Pursuant to policy 4.43, all individuals who have been tased are to be taken to a hospital, usually Riverside Regional Medical Center prior to booking for medical evaluation. Photographs are to be taken of any injuries caused by the tasers and each incident of taser use is to be documented in the police report, pursuant to policy 4.30 which is the department's use of force policy.

Another group of individuals who are in a protected class from being tased are police officers.

Pregnant officers have also been advised not to use their tasers, by the Police Policy Studies Council.

Pregnant officers and taser use


The taser is an electrical restraint device that is used in law enforcement. It is common for officers to have the taser applied to themselves during training. One study suggested an association between the taser and miscarriage after reviewing a case report and the literature on electrical injuries during pregnancy [21]. Pregnant officers should not be subjected to the taser and should not try to restrain subjects during a taser application.

If a pregnant officer is prohibited from using a taser because of risk of either being tased in training or those apparent risks inherent from tasing another person in the field, then most of these law enforcement agencies should have written policies prohibiting the tasing of women they know or are informed is pregnant. Still, many do not put it in writing.

Then, it's interesting to note that when it comes to tasing officers(in training, not in the field), there's a different standard set for safety than for those that they may tase themelves.

Any law enforcement officer who undergoes training to carry and deploy tasers, which is required in many law enforcement agencies is usually tased during that training so that he or she will know what it feels like from the other end of the device. Many have called it, the "worst five seconds of pain I have ever experienced." However, according to another Palm Beach Post article, there are often many differences between the experience of an officer who is tased as part of a training session and what happens to people who are tased by these officers out in the field. What is most noteworthy is how many precautions the trainers take in some cases while tasing officers to ensure that they are kept safe and from suffering any harmful effects. The first link is from a company that sells tasers online. The second, explains how to ensure that officers being tased in training are protected from harm.

Taser warnings on use

Tasing: Officers vs Civilians


The company requires officers who are shocked during training to read and sign "Instructor or User warnings, Risks, Liability Release and Covenant Not to Sue."

Because a shock causes involuntary muscle contractions, as well as loss of all motor control, an effective firing will almost inevitably cause a person to fall. According to the lesson plan, the fall alone can cause "a wide variety of injuries" including concussions, broken bones and dislocated joints."

The safety precautions for these planned, voluntary shocks during training are painstaking.

They include two spotters to hold the officers upper arm under the armpit "so that the person can be safely supported and lowered to the ground after being hit without twisting or putting undue stress on the arm or shoulder."

In some training exercises, clips are used rather than barbed probes fired from the stun gun. If probes are used, the officer is required to wear goggles.

In addition, police sometimes reduce the duration of the shock to just a few seconds compared with the standard five-second shock that is routine on the street.

The manual advises that people with low blood sugar have a snack before getting shocked.

In addition, Taser guidelines caution instructors to allow a bathroom break before the training shocks to help prevent an "unnecessary embarrassment." That precaution might explain why the manual says shocks from the weapon "generally don't cause urination or defecation" and that "to date there have been two urination cases (out of 100,000) from volunteers during a 5-second M26 exposure."

By ensuring that these precautions are in place at least for a particular class of person, the officer, those that train them are acknowledging that the taser use carries risks. If an officer were to die or be seriously injured as a result of being tased in training, that individual and their family members have signed away their right to file any wrongful death claims or law suits for injuries they suffered as a result. Remember what comes first with most corporations and municipalities.

Also challenging the use of tasers is the American Civil Liberties Union particularly the Northern California Police Project, which released its own position paper on the subject. In response, Taser International, Inc. which sells both the M26 and the X26 tasers published a rebuttal paper. It challenged the study done by the ACLU and insisted that its product was both nonlethal and entirely safe to use. It did not take lives, but saved the lives of police officers and people living in the communities they served. Taser International, Inc. stated on its Web site that tasers reduced injuries to both officers and members of the public and also, prevented many fatal shootings. Phoenix Police Department provided the source material for that last assertion, according to Taser International, Inc.'s Web site.

However, in response to that assertion, the ACLU-NC stated that the number of shootings by Phoenix's police officers had fallen by a lesser degree than the usage of tasers had increased which showed that tasers were used primarily in situations rather than those to prevent the escalation of an incident to where deadly force would be required. In addition, many of the individuals tased by officers in that police department were mentally ill. That particular debate still continues between both sides of it.

How tasers are used has also been a topic of another debate.

Particularly controversial as far as Amnesty International is concerned, is the use of tasers in the "drive-stun" mode, which is when the probes are directly applied to a person's body. Many police agencies including the RPD(as of 2004) do not have written guidelines within their taser policies addressing this usage as a "pain compliance" option.

The following was excerpted from a Palm Beach Post article on this form of taser usage:

Taser usage: health effects

Officers also can remove the prong cartridge and discharge the weapon directly against a person's body in the "drive-stun" mode to subdue combative arrestees with a searing jolt of pain.

The Taser training manual advises that because it is not incapacitating, this mode can lead to "prolonged struggles" and that "it is in these types of scenarios that officers are often facing accusations of excessive force."

The technique also requires some care, according to Taser International, but the company's guidelines contain conflicting recommendations. The manual points out that the neck and groin "have proven highly sensitive to injury, such as crushing to the trachea or testicles if applied forcefully."

The manual continues, "However, these areas have proven highly effective targets."

That last statement seems to contradict the previous one and implies that the office is supposed to disregard safety precautions, including those that are included in some departments' policies governing the more traditional use of tasers and go for the "highly effective target". Even from a risk management perspective( a governing force in many law enforcement agencies and major corporations), this "advice" does not seem wise to give out to law enforcement organizations, as it would appear that it could encourage abusive use of the devices on the scale of that documented by the Amnesty International and other human rights organizations, not to mention news agencies in their coverage of the issue.

Indeed, some law enforcement agencies that have policies governing the "drive-stun" method encourage their officers to do exactly that to an excess. In those cases, it will help greatly if their jurisdictional cities or counties have good insurance carriers. It would be far better if they remembered what they were there to do.

This last paragraph drives home an important point, and that is even though it's still the topic of heated debate whether or not the taser is itself, an inherently dangerous device, what can't be argued against is that a lot of it still depends on who is holding it. Because it is a powerful device in a way that is rivaled only by a firearm, it requires a lot of responsibility on the part of not only the person who is deploying it, but the agency that has hired and trained that person, both in terms of how to behave as an officer and how to operate that particular piece of equipment. It may be decided in the future whether or not the device truly makes the public more safe or more endangered, but at present it is known beyond all doubt that it's the officer and how he or she behaves on the job that makes that determination. Whether that officer is truly an asset or a detriment when it comes to safety to community members, to himself or to other officers for that matter. And if problems arise with the use of these options, how are they addressed by the law enforcement agency, if they are at all?

Which may or may not lead back to a discussion of the Brown shooting.

More Links

Amnesty International Links:

USA: Excessive and Lethal Force?

Tasers: Aftershocks

ACLU Links:

ACLU Police Practices: Tasers

Stun Gun Fallacy

(for rebuttal by Taser International, Inc. see "Taser" links)

Taser controversy: United States

Taser Deaths Fueling Concerns

CAL College of Emergency Physicians on Less lethal options

Use of tasers on minors including school children

Taser use in school children in Florida

Tasers used on people from age 13 to 86

Use of tasers on the elderly

Elderly woman tased

Taser of elderly woman caught on tape

Use on the physically disabled

Woman in wheel chair dies after tasing

Taser International, Inc. Links

Taser, Inc. links on taser controversy

(includes 40-page counterargument to ACLU-NC's challenge against taser use)


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