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A tale of two TASERs: Why ethics is fundamental to officer safety

A large number of police officer suicides are committed by cops who are under investigation

It was about 0200 hours as I walked back to the office in the dark hallway. I suddenly remembered that I hadn’t done a spark check on my TASER. As I continued to walk I drew the TASER, removed the cartridge, took the safety off, and pressed the trigger.

Instead of hearing the crackle of the spark check, I heard the “POP” of the cartridge.

Holding the weapon in a safe direction saved me from TASERing myself.

Taking Responsibility
I’d never done a spark check on the move before, so apparently my brain slipped into firearms reload mode, something I’d done countless times on the move. I removed the spare cartridge from the butt of the TASER, not the front.

The good news is the carpet was no worse for wear. I picked up the AFIDs to the best of my ability, stowed the probes in the cartridge, wrapped the wires, and set it on the desk.

I began to write a note.

Dear Chief,
I accidently shot the carpet with my TASER while doing a spark check. If I owe the department for the cartridge let me know.
Sorry about that.
Your dumb-ass TASER instructor.

At our next use-of-force training, I brought the incident up, using it as a training point when doing the spark check. I took some good-natured ribbing.

When I screw up or think there may be some repercussions from my actions — a citizen complaint, for example — I always try be the first to tell my supervisor.

They hear it from me first, and I take responsibility for my actions.

Supervisors like that.

I could easily have vacuumed up the AFIDs, ditched the cartridge, and never said a word. But I didn’t. I owned up to my actions, and even used my mistake to help instruct my colleagues on the department.

We moved on.

Down the Rabbit Hole
On another department, a cop pointed the TASER at a clearing barrel to do a spark check, and the TASER discharged. He quickly left the area.

Another officer heard the discharge, found the AFIDs on the floor, and an investigation was conducted.

The officer who discharged the TASER was the lieutenant in charge of the shift so the investigation was handed over to him.

He had a choice to make. He continued with the deception and questioned all of the officers on shift.

The officer had an exemplary record until that point.

In a letter written to his chief later he wrote, “On an impulse I decided to throw away the cartridge with the intent of letting the incident go undetected. I did this because I was embarrassed that I had done something so absentmindedly careless. Our ethics standard is clear that we should do the right thing and I failed in this case.”

Obviously, he was troubled by his decisions.

In the letter to his chief he wrote, “I sat my wife down… and told her what had happened and that I had to make it right. The stress of what I had done was consuming me. I told her if I kept quiet I would not be the same person I have always been... the only solution was to come forward. I told her I was about to make a phone call that would at best damage my career and at worst end it.”

He spoke to the officers responsible for the investigation and those he had investigated. He explained what happened and apologized for his actions. In his letter to the chief he expressed gratitude to them for their support and confidence in him in spite of the incident.

He also wrote, “I could have mitigated the whole thing right there,” he added. “But I had fallen into that rabbit hole and I didn’t know how to climb out.”

When the investigation started the officer was placed on administrative leave. When the investigation was completed, three deputy chiefs reviewed the case. All three recommended termination.

The chief agreed.

A Terrible Tragedy
Soon thereafter, dispatch received a call from the lieutenant.

He told them to send officers to a local cemetery.

When they arrived, they found the officer with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

He would not survive.

In this tale of two TASERs — with different choices and different outcomes (one of them tragic) — we are reminded that each one of us is human and we all make mistakes.

One of my chiefs said, “There are mistakes of the heart and mistakes of the head. In a mistake of the heart you do the wrong thing with the best intentions. In a mistake of the head you do the wrong thing, knowing its’ wrong. We can work with mistakes of the heart, but I will not tolerate mistakes of the head.”

In a class called “Walking with the Devil: The Police Code of Silence,” my friend — and author of a book by the same name — Mike Quinn told us that a large number of police officer suicides are committed by cops who are under investigation.

Your ethics and integrity are an integral component of your officer safety.

If you make a mistake, own up to it.

If it results in some type of discipline, get over it and get on with your life and your career.

Avoid turning a little thing into a big thing.

Avoid the “rabbit hole” of deception.

In February 2014, Duane Wolfe retired from his career as a Minnesota Peace Officer after more than 25 years of service (beginning in 1988). During his career, he served as a patrolman, sergeant, S.R.T., use of force and firearms instructor. He was a full-time law enforcement instructor at Alexandria Technical & Community College in Alexandria, Minnesota for 28 years. Duane has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from Bemidji State University and a Masters Degree in Education from Southwest State University.