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Tactics and science of TASER deployment

When and how to use your ECD is determined by factual context — but heart effects might be fiction

The New Year inevitably brings new thoughts about improving our tactics (and reducing our liability). For me, some new information about the continuing controversy surrounding whether or not a TASER affects a person’s heart is just one thing that comes to mind.

Also ripe for discussion here are drive stun tactics, as well as optimal range for probe spread. Let’s get started.

Tactics for Fleeing Suspects
Using a TASER on a person who is “in motion” (like running away, riding a bicycle or motorcycle, skateboarding, etc.) presents a significantly higher injury risk from falling while in motion. Therefore, you would be wise to reserve your TASER uses in such cases to people wanted for “serious crimes” (typically felonies).

For example, launching TASER probes while you are chasing a fleeing person on concrete and asphalt is just not the same if you are trying to arrest him for illegally possessing an open container of beer as using the TASER on a fleeing robber or rapist.

When someone is running at you (imminent assault on an officer), that’s a different story. Your safety is in jeopardy, so do what you must do that is reasonable to stop the assault. TASER can work well in that circumstance, and the higher injury risk is offset by the need to immediately stop the person.

As a refresher, the following language is from the product warnings bulletin issued by TASER International in March 2013:

When practicable avoid using a CEW on a person who is on an elevated or unstable surface (e.g., tree, roof, ladder, ledge, balcony, porch, bridge, or stair); could fall and suffer impact injury to the head or other area; could fall on a sharp object or surface (e.g., holding a knife, falling on glass); is less able to catch or protect self in a fall (e.g., restrained, handcuffed, incapacitated, or immobilized); has impaired reflexes (e.g., from alcohol, drugs or certain medications); is running, in motion, or moving under momentum; is operating or riding any mode of transportation (e.g., vehicle, bus, bicycle, motorcycle, or train), conveyance (e.g., escalator, moving walkway, elevator, skateboard, rollerblades), or machinery; or is located in water, mud, or marsh environment if the ability to move is restricted.

Of course, the counterargument is that if you do not launch TASER probes at someone who is fleeing, when you catch up to them you typically tackle them and end up in a ground fight, with resulting injury risks for both you and the suspect.

Still, you ought to distinguish between the need to capture and arrest Machine Gun Kelly versus the guy sipping a Bud on your sidewalk — and the relative injury risks.

Drive-Stun Tactics
Drive-stuns typically DO NOT INCAPACITATE your subject! They are good for pain-compliance, but not incapacitation.

Drive-stuns typically just cause pain for subjects who feel pain. Feeling that pain causes some subjects to act out more violently as they try to get away from it.

Unless you have a need to break contact with a subject, or you are using a 3-point contact (because you missed with a probe, or the probes are too close together to be effective, or you’re doing a drive-stun with the cartridge on so you can achieve a 3-point contact), forget the drive-stun! If you are hands-on with the subject, you will get your subject subdued quicker using other physical control tactics. If TASER use is a reasonable option in the situation, use the probes!

Probe Deployments
When shooting the probes, GET SOME DISTANCE!

In a quick-breaking incident, many officers think they are 10-12 feet back, but in fact they are much closer. This typically results in a probe spread too close to be effective.

When engaging your subject, Simon says, “Take some giant steps backwards!”

Does TASER Affect the Heart?
Take a look at this article from the journal Circulation (American Heart Association), entitled Controversies in Cardiovascular Medicine: TASER Electronic Control Devices and Cardiac Arrests: Coincidental or Causal?

The 3 main findings are:

1.) The demonstrated incidence of ECD-induced cardiac arrest is extremely low, if not zero
2.) Conclusions of a connection between ECD use and cardiac arrest are speculative at best
3.) The role of several non-ECD confounding factors explaining cardiac arrests are not accounted for in prior published case reports

That’s all for now. Stay safe!

Greg Meyer, a retired Captain from the Los Angeles Police Academy, served for 30 years, including eight years as a commanding officer. Greg is a member of the National Advisory Board of the Force Science Research Center, a member of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP).