Blogger’s Note: Columnist-slash-cop Steve Sutherland, a veteran officer with the Bainbridge Island Police Department, is here to talk about Tasers. Feel free to write more questions for him. For more past editions, click here.
Officer Sutherland writes: Several writers are aware that I am a Taser instructor and I know that there is some controversy about this less-lethal weapon. I hope I can answer some of your questions with this column.
To be certified as an instructor, I attended a 16-hour class. Two years ago I attended a 16-hour refresher class. I have been shot with the Taser once and had the probes attached to my clothing four other times. And yes, it is very painful, but once the five second cycle ends, you’re back to normal with no after effects.
The majority of police departments, including Bainbridge, are now using the X26 Taser. The X26 is rated at 50,000 volts, five watts and 0.0021 amps. The dangerous part of electricity is the amps and the amp in a Taser is extremely low. For comparison, a static discharge on a door knob can be anywhere from 35,000 to 100,000 volts. You might also be interested to know that a Christmas tree bulb has a one amp current.
The Taser fires two electrified probes with trailing copper wires from a cartridge and the arc can penetrate up to one inch of clothing per each probe. The probes cannot penetrate more than one inch of skin. The electrical current affects the motor and sensory functions of the central nervous system, causing uncontrollable muscle contractions.
The Taser is effective approximately 95% of the time and has dramatically reduced injuries to officers and suspects alike. More importantly, they have reduced the number of lethal force incidents.
However, the Taser is not a substitute for lethal force, but in
some situations, the early use of a Taser can prevent many of these
situations from escalating to deadly force. Citzens have questioned
on publicized incidents why the officer used deadly force instead
of the Taser. If a suspect points a gun at or charges an officer
with a knife,
that officer would be foolish and probably dead or seriously injured if he reached for his Taser instead of his handgun.
Other less-lethal weapons (pepper spray, baton) work on pain compliance, unfortunately, suspects under the influence of drugs, alcohol or focused, combative individuals, can overcome the pain. People with certain types of emotional and psychological instabilities have also shown some immunity to pain. Hence the need for a less-lethal weapon that is effective with suspects who can overcome pain alone.
The Taser has proven itself to be highly effective in resolving incidents involving the emotionally disturbed, combative and assaultive suspects and persons threatening suicide. Prior to the Taser, law enforcement had no effective tool to safely resolve these types of incidents.
The most controversial aspect of the use of Tasers by law enforcement has been the debate about the in-custody deaths of suspects who have been tasered. You’ll have to make up your own mind as to which side of the debate you fall on, but here’s some information you can consider.
No deaths have ever been directly attributed to the use of the
Taser, nor has any medical evidence been presented that the use of
the Taser causes or contributes to heart or respiratory failure.
Coroner autopsies have generally attributed in-custody deaths after
the use of a Taser to the following factors: Toxic drug use,
conditions, manic exhaustion and excited delirium.
The Taser may be a controversial weapon, but there is no denying that it has reduced injuries among officers and suspects and more importantly has reduced the number of lethal force incidents.
Steve Sutherland has been a Bainbridge Island Police officer for eleven years. He also worked as an officer for the Suquamish Tribal Police Department for almost four years. He’s currently an instructor for the Bainbridge department in defensive tactics, Taser and pepper spray. He lives on Bainbridge and enjoys relaxing, working in his yard, and reading (fiction mostly).