Use of Force – Less Lethal Options – Electronic Control Weapons

We all understand that our use of force practices are being examined under the microscope of public scrutiny.  Now, more than ever, we should expect that any action we take will not only be reviewed, but most likely caught on someone’s cell phone camera. While I challenge any of you to show me any use of force that “looks good” there are important factors we must remember in our applications of non- deadly force.

Within the Daigle Law Group Policy Center policies concerning non-deadly force, we break down each non-deadly force option into its own directive.  Each non-deadly force option comes with its own set of conditions, needs for medical attention, and report writing requirements.  Let’s look at a few of the operational considerations and constitutional concerns that come with the use of Electronic Control Weapons.

Electronic Control Weapons

Commonly known as TASERS, this less lethal application requires its own set of guidelines. 

First and foremost, an ECW should only be used against subjects who are actively resisting in a manner that, in the officer’s judgment, is likely to result in injuries to themselves or others. 

What does that mean?  Simply put, it means that an ECW is not the appropriate tool against the suspect who is passively resisting or who may simply be questioning the officer’s actions.  ACTIVELY RESISTING is defined as those situations where:

A subject makes physically evasive movements to interfere with an officer’s attempt to control that subject.  Evasive movements include, but are limited to, bracing, tensing, pulling away, or pushing.

We have all seen the videos where the subject is TASED for simply questioning the officer’s authority.  This is not an appropriate use of the ECW.  We cannot forget that an officer’s ability to talk to subjects and gain compliance through verbal commands is still our best “weapon”.

If the ECW is to be deployed against an actively resisting suspect, several actions need to be taken by the deploying officer.  First, give the subject time to comply with your verbal commands when it is safe to do so.  This serves a dual purpose – if the subject complies, it negates the need to deploy the ECW and it provides notice to other officers that the TASER may be deployed.  You should also make an announcement that you plan to deploy the ECW such as “TASER – TASER”.  After deployment, the suspect should be handcuffed and brought under control as soon as possible.  Quick control of the suspect reduces the need for multiple ECW applications.

In those circumstances where multiple applications of the ECW are required officers need to be able to articulate and document the following important elements:

  1. The NEED for EACH application of the ECW must be supported and documented.  The fact that the suspect was Tased for initially resisting does not necessarily justify the 3rd, 4th, and 5th applications or “rides”.  Each application of the TASER must be justified by continuous active resistance.
  • Is the subject ABLE to comply with the officer’s commands?  Multiple applications of the Taser given over a very short period of time may give credence to the subject’s claim that he or she was not given an opportunity to comply.  Remember, you will be downloading the ECW activity statistics and including that information within your report.

So, we talked about the fact that the ECW will only be used in those circumstances where the subject is actively resisting.  What about those circumstances where the use of the ECW is prohibited?

Your agency directive prohibits the use of ECW’s in a number of circumstances including:

  • Against female subjects who the officer reasonably believes is pregnant;
  • A subject located in a place where, once incapacitated, could be injured or injure others such as a subject standing on a ledge or operating a vehicle;
  • Subjects under the age of 10 or over the age of 70;
  • In a dangerous environment – such as the presence of gasoline or where the subject has been sprayed with an alcohol- based OC spray; and
  • To rouse an unconscious or incapacitated person

The purpose of the ECW is to gain compliance – NOT to be used as a torture device. It is important to remember that your use of the ECW will be reviewed and improper use of this important tool can expose you to administrative and criminal liability.

We will review the important steps to be completed after a use of force incident, including report writing and providing medical treatment, in a future episode, but there are some ECW- specific steps that need to be taken after the ECW has been used – notably, removal of the probes, collection of the ECW evidence, and downloading the ECW statistics.

How and where the probes are located may require the attention of an EMT for removal.  However, if the probes have disengaged or are superficially attached to the skin they can be removed.

As we all know, when an ECW is activated it emits AFID tags.  As part of the post-force process, the officer needs to collect at least two of the AFIDs, along with the probes, wire leads, and cartridge. These items need to be properly bagged and tagged and placed in evidence.

Next, the ECW needs to be turned in to the supervisor to download the ECW statistics and any video, if applicable.  This information also needs to be secured and included with the case.

 Finally, let’s review a couple of administrative and safety matters. 

  • It is your responsibility to check the ECW at the beginning of your shift assuring that the battery is charged and the cartridge is properly loaded;
  • Carry the ECW in the authorized holster; and
  • Carry the extra cartridge in an approved carrier – DO NOT carry the cartridge in your pocket – a static charge may cause an unintended discharge of the cartridge in your pocket!

Today we hit the high points on your department directive concerning the use of ECW’s.  Please review the directive to reacquaint yourself with the Department directive concerning this important tool.  When used correctly and in the right circumstances an ECW can limit injury to the suspect and you, the officer.