Friday, July 20, 2007

Better than a bullet

Officer Andy Ripley used a TASER yesterday, the first TASER deployment of 2007 for LPD. At 3:04 AM, he was among the officers that responded to a serious stabbing at a south Lincoln apartment. Officers were confronted there by a 25 year old man armed with a hammer in one hand, and a screwdriver in the other, who adopted an aggressive stance. Officer Ripley, fortunately, had one of LPD's dozen TASERs on his belt, and quickly resolved the matter. Bizarrely, it turned out this man was not the stabber, but had just committed another, separate assault.

It was an ideal situation for TASER: an armed an aggressive suspect contained in a controllable area, and an officer armed with the device at sufficient standoff distance, yet close enough to be within the effective range. Nobody was injured, and after a quick detour to the hospital for a checkup, the suspect was released into the waiting arms of the officers for a trip to the overstuffed jail. Officer Ripley was completing his reports when I arrived at work yesterday morning, and I congratulated him on a nice job. Good work Andy, you may have saved this man's life.

TASER is not without risk, and not without controversy. Amnesty International and the ACLU have taken this issue on with enthusiasm, and there have been plenty of hair-raising "investigative reports" by journalists. Google "TASER" and click the news link--you'll see my point. Some of the concerns are sensationalized, but some are legitimate, in my opinion--particularly the criticism that the scientific evidence on TASER is not firmly established, and too much of that literature has been funded by the industry itself. It's not easy to tell where the research ends and the marketing begins. This will change over time, and I suspect that in a decade or two, these devices will be as common as pepper spray as part of the police officers' equipment. In the meantime, I think the judicious deployment of TASER is justified despite the controversies: one thing's for certain, it's a lot less likely to cause serious injury or death than a bullet.

This is our fourth year of deploying TASER on the street. Two of our sergeants, Destry Jaeger and Geoff Marti, have done an excellent job on training, and Assistant Chief Jim Peschong took on the task of becoming expert in the policy implications of TASER. We have considered lots of policy and practice input from a variety of sources, including the critics of this technology. I think the work of the Police Executive Research Forum is particularly balanced and noteworthy, and it is from here that we have taken our guidance in adopting a conservative approach to the deployment of TASER, policy, and training. This approach is intended to protect our officers, as much as those who are probed by the TASER's barbs.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I applaud any deployment of a LTL (Less than Lethal) weapon to resolve a confrontation. Curious if LPD has looked at the beanbag guns that are starting to make their way to the mainstream.

One thought - if you know any of the details of the Rodney King situation - LAPD couldn't afford to give every officer a TASER and the training to go with it - so instead of being honest about that - they portrayed it as the "wonder gun" that was so magical, only Sergeants could have them.

When King was TASERED (more than once I think) and didn't go down - every officer on the scene immediately thought PCP - and the next thing you know, they start thumping on him. Add in a lack of sufficient training with the PR24 - and King ends up getting hit in the head (deadly force) and beat mercilessly.

I'm not suggesting that TASER = Rodney King Incident - but when you have a tool like the TASER that works so well 97% of the time - when it doesn't - for whatever reason - the tendency CAN be to really kick it up a notch - because the "magic gun" didn't do what it always does.

Obviously, there were a lot of other factors in the King incident which contributed and don't apply to LPD. Just a comment.

As a citizen, I'm grateful that the department is exploring new technologies - and tools - all with an eye on safety (officer and offender). As you said - the TASER probably saved a life.

I would guess that in any other city in NE outside of Omaha - this guy would have faced a struggle, a baton, and maybe a hospitalization. (or worse)

Anonymous said...

Why not equip all of your officer's with a Taser? I guarantee you will have an increase in uses. Twelve Tasers for a department with a little over 300 police officers?

Anonymous said...

If the equipment is used to protect your officers, how come you don't have more TASERS. I heard there is a budget crisis, but I imagine there is grant money available for your department to buy more TASERS to protect your officers.

Tom Casady said...

TASER advocates need to read some of those links in my posts--or just Google "TASER" and start hunting. The jury is still out on TASER, and there have been terrible bashings of the police in TASER-related use of force incidents around the country.

One of the things we want to protect our officers from is the criticism, lawsuits, and even indictments that have surrounded some of these cases. That's why it's good to follow the guidelines suggested by PERF, and to adopt a go-slow approach for now.

Until the scientific evidence is more thorough and more widely accepted, it's best to go slow, and not be overly-enthusiastic in putting TASERs out. We have had our own horrible experiences with officers being wrongly accused, indicted, tried, and found not guilty after using less-lethal force techniques that proved fatal. I don't want to put our officers between the "expert" testifiers ever again if I can avoid it. Unless you lived through it, you have no idea how traumatic this was for the individual officers, their families, the department, and the community.

Soon enough, the evidence will be fleshed out in the peer-reviewed medical journals, and TASER will be a widely accepted technology if the field accepts the research. In the meantime, a conservative approach to TASER deployment is the best way to protect officers from the kind of sensationalized horror stories that I am referring to.

Anonymous said...

Chief,

You show links to information about people who are against the use of TASERS, Amnesty International, but where are the links for those articles good things about TASER? http://online.wsj.com/public/article/PR-CO-20070627-901506-9rMv_QY2nWNQyYirefAkx17VhdA_20070627.html?mod=wsjcrmain
Apparently, Taser International has had 52 civil liablilty lawsuits end in their favor & 0 end in someone else's favor. The medical evidence is out there, you just appear to ignore it.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons the anti-taser crowd (which is generally an anti-police crowd) dislike taser use is that it leaves no gruesome signs of the suspect's resistance to arrest being overcome. Dog bites leave puncture wounds for agit-prop "sympathy photos", as does the nightstick with welts and bruising. It's hard to gin up public fury and raise mad money for your "non-profit" splinter group when the police won't help you out with juicy photo ops.

-JS- said...

In response to the anonymous posts on July 20th--

While the department could stand to purchase a few more TASERs for street deployment, you would certainly be surprised with the speed at which a TASER finds its way to a critical incident now.

As long as street supervisors are ensuring that their team assigned TASERs are deployed each shift, I feel that we are making prudent and efficient use of these tools at this time.