TASER® Class: Use of Force, Risk Management and Legal Strategies Seminars
After 23 years in law enforcement, I’ve attended a bunch of classes. I’ve also taught a bunch of classes relating to everything from basic law enforcement to on-scene response to the Georgia Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors. I was honored to attend a great seminar recently put on by TASER® International in Lawrenceville, Georgia. The class was open to LEOs, administrators and attorneys. With attendance of about 250, there is no doubt the class was popular and the topic appropriate.
As I walked around during the breaks, I saw a cross-section of our law enforcement community, many of whom I knew. I ran into LEO trainers, line officers looking to learn more, agency heads, county attorneys and members of our United States Military. What a great collection of leaders.
The seminar was excellent. The topics were fresh and timely ranging from use of force decisions from courts around the country to product innovations from TASER® to a healthy dose of science and medicine to educate attendees on the device. Having defended LEOs as well as physicians in medical malpractice cases for many years, I was impressed with the way in which the material cut to the chase and presented the facts.
The seminar instructors included TASER® CEO and Founder Rick Smith,TASER® General Counsel Mike Brave, Dr. Mark W. Kroll, PhD, FACC, FHRS who holds numerous patents associated with implemented cardiac pacemakers and a LEO who also works as an emergency department physician.
The TASER® device has saved lives and greatly reduced injuries for LEOs and suspects. The seminar stressed an analysis that bears some reflection. How many lives were saved because the TASER® was deployed and the use of deadly force was not required? That is a penetrating question. It is also the most important question that you must bring to the community and your administration when promoting TASER® use and analyzing TASER® deployments.
LEOs in the United States are well-trained and have a great deal of guidance from our courts on the use of force. As I’ve stated in previous posts, the ideal law enforcement encounter with a violent offender ends with no injury to the LEO or the offender. If that goal cannot be accomplished, we should strive to effect the arrest with the least amount of injury as well as using the least amount of force. Time and time again, we have seen that the TASER® accomplishes that goal and is an invaluable tool for LEOs.
As to those who seek to demonize the TASER®, an essential part of any tort lawsuit that seeks damages for an injury to a person is causation. In short, “Did the actions of a person cause the injury?” I’ve dealt with this in defending physicians and hospitals for many years. As LEOs you must always remember that the outcome of the subject’s encounter with LEOs does not create liability. Put another way, the person suing the LEO or the agency must prove that your actions actually caused the injury outlined in the lawsuit. The law requires proof of proximate cause also expressed as legal cause. More than anything, this seminar was effective in outlining great strategies to prepare LEOs to defend themselves in cases wherein the outcome of the arrest is a serious injury or death. In order to defend yourself in a lawsuit, like in any use of force case, you must gather the appropriate evidence.
The seminar presented common sense points seemingly lost in the media. For example, any pacemaker must be able to withstand the electricity transferred by a medical external defibrillator and the TASER® device delivers far less energy. Or the fact that the TASER® is powered by a battery the size of a digital camera battery and cannot deliver the same current as an electric chair. Yes, I’ve heard that argument made with a straight face but I could not stop laughing. The import of the seminar is that as LEOs we bear the burden to get the facts to the community and the media. The TASER® is a tool provided to us by a private company willing to take a risk. Just as the folks at TASER® protect you on the street, you must protect them in the courtroom, before the city council and with the media. Just like any law enforcement tool, one court case can change the game and result in the loss of a vital arrow in our quiver.
Like any law enforcement tool, you must be educated and be able to articulate the use of and reason for deployment of a TASER®. I recommend that you periodically read the training materials you received and review that material before you testify in EVERY case if a TASER® was deployed. Remember that the testimony you provide in every probable cause hearing or trial in municipal court for disorderly conduct is just as critical as your testimony in federal court in a use of force case. You should be just as fluent in the science of the TASER® as you are with the science behind your firearm. In the end, all of the research done on the TASER® and all of the expert testimony provided in every case will not determine if we are able to keep this valuable tool. It will be the actions of LEOs on the street and the manner in which they are able to articulate the reasons for their actions that will carry the day. That’s OK though. You are the best in the world at what you do.