Casey at the Academy: The use of tasers by law enforcement

Posted at 4:15 PM, Mar 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-04 12:54:33-04

Tallahassee Citizens Academy - March 13, 2018

Class #2: Tasers

The use of tasers by law enforcement have always been a source of controversy. The “Don’t Tase Me Bro” incident of 2007 involving UF student Andrew Meyer might be something that first comes to mind but there have been many others. Even recently in Tallahassee, where a man died after a taser related exposure. The controversy is caused in part by the belief and spread of popular misconceptions when it comes to their use by law enforcement. My second class at Tallahassee Police Department’s Citizen’s Academy, led by Officer Staats, focused specifically on the use of tasers by law enforcement and debunked many of the common myths associated with their use.

#1 “Tasers have been around for a long time.”

Answer: Yes, well kind of.

Tasers were first invented in the mid 1970’s by Jack Cover and were first sold for use by law enforcement in Florida in 1998 (according to the Sun Sentinel). Recognizing the growing need for non-lethal weapons the Tallahassee Police Department began using tasers in 2002, nearly 27 years after they were invented. In that same amount of time you could have built Cascades Park from the ground up three times over. So why did it take so long to implement? Agencies across Florida, TPD included, had to make sure that tasers were efficient, cost effective, and most importantly, safe. Even in the short time that TPD has had a taser program, they’ve been through many changes to their procedures and even models of tasers used.

Types of Tasers Used at TPD

  • ‘Stun Gun’ Style tasers first distributed to some criminal units at TPD. Not very effective because you must be within an arm’s length of the suspect to use it. In case you didn’t realize, this is incredibly dangerous. It would be like trying to fight off a bear attack while having one hand on the bear the whole time. Now imagine if that bear had a knife and 20 prior convictions. Yeah, I’ll pass.
  • M26’s aka ‘The Brick’ was a powerful taser device that according to Officer Staats feels like a bunch of hammers hitting you at the same time. While effective, the device is bulky in nature and was eventually dated by newer technology.  This was the first taser device used by TPD that propelled outwards.
  • X26’s had a much softer hit, was more compact, and had the opportunity for feature advancements such as camera modifications. The Tallahassee City Commission approved the purchase of these on April 25th, 2007.
  • As the X26’s got older, so did their warranties. Which meant more variables with repairs, proper discharge of the device, and other issues. In 2016 TPD proposed a transition to the X2 device which was approved. These are the newest taser models used by TPD and are distinguishable by their bright yellow color.

To summarize, tasers have been around for a while now but their implementation by TPD has been semi-recent. As new technologies emerge such as A.I. and other comparable breakthroughs, agencies will continue to adapt and hone-in on the most efficient use of these devices.

#2 “Tasers kill people.”

Answer: Not by themselves.

 According to Officer Staats, there has never been a singular cause of death associated with the use of a taser, and only a taser. Many of the deaths we hear about involving law enforcement use of a taser are based upon other underlying factors which we may not hear about a lot. Some of these factors were discussed in the class.

Common Custody Death Issues

  • Violent Encounter – Subject involved in an altercation which causes strain and sometimes physical damage to their well-being.
  • Physique and Personal Health – Related in part to the first point, those that are overweight or at an unhealthy weight for their age/height may be predisposed to health conditions that are only aggregated by the use of a taser weapon. Use of a taser DOES have a stressful impact on the body but is not deadly in its own regard.
  • History of Drug Use -  The use of drugs impacts the body’s natural metabolic rate which raises blood pressure, can cause sweating, states of mania, and delusion. All of these factors are taken into account when an officer decides to use a taser weapon, but even then, sometimes the subjects have already exceeded the metabolic rate that their bodies can physically handle.
  • History of Self-Harm or Mental Issues – These types of underlying illnesses can contribute to the death of an individual by a taser because they often lead to all the bullet points previously discussed. In addition, issues of self-harm or manic episodes put high amounts of stress and on the wellbeing of the individual.

While there are others, these are the primary factors for taser related instances of death. Tasers have been proven to be safe when used in an environment that is free from factors such as these.

#3 “Tasers are not as regulated as guns. Legally speaking, there is no accountability.”

  Answer: Actually, there is.

Under Florida Statute 943.1717, the proper use of ‘dart-firing stun-guns’ by law enforcement is discussed in depth. It says that in order to justify the use of such a device the officer has to be able to demonstrate one of two things:

  • That the subject has the ability to threaten or intimidate the officer or others.
  • Is preparing or attempting to flee or escape.

If the first bullet seems a bit vague then you aren’t alone. Officer Staats breaks it down for our class. There is a difference between passive resistance and active resistance, passive being not doing what the officer tells you and the active being threat of violence or flee risk. Tasers are only used in instances of active resistance, where the subject is knowingly going against the orders of the officer via violence, threat of violence, or escape. Any other use of a taser by a law enforcement officer can result in major consequences.

#4 “Citizens Can’t Legally Own Propelling Tasers.”

Answer: Yes they can, and it’s kind of terrifying.

Many taser companies buy old and outdated tasers from law enforcement agencies and resell them to average everyday citizens and it’s 100% legal. In addition, some companies that sell tasers have models available that have longer electro shocks than police issued tasers. Police issued tasers usually have a shock time of about 5 seconds, if deployed in the perfect scenario where there is contact with skin. Some of these after-market devices have shocks that last up to 30 seconds. That’s a HUGE time difference when you’re squirming around the ground like a limp fish.

But don’t get any ideas. The charge for discharging a taser on your neighbor Jim Bob for having his music up too loud might get you hit with an aggravated battery charge.

Until next week, I’m Casey Feindt for WTXL ABC 27.


Fun Facts

  • With some kinds of tasers, tiny aphids are released when discharged. These look like tiny dots of confetti. These aphids have codes on them which helps to connect them to crime scenes and personnel in use of the device.
  • Taser coils will penetrate the skin about half an inch.
  • The color of the TPD tasers have nothing to do with aiding the officers in being able to differentiate the device from a standard issue gun on their belt. The color was proposed by the City of Tallahassee to show up better on camera when reviewing crime footage.
  • Pepper spray is an optional item for Officers to carry, a taser and gun are not. 

Do you have a question you want to ask TPD about our next topic? Tweet to me @CaseyF_WTXL with the hashtag #TPDCitzenAcademy2018

Stay tuned for the next edition of Casey at the Academy next Wednesday!