Electro-Muscular Disruption Technology

I know some folks out there are looking at the title of this blog and saying “Whaaat??”

I think you know this technology better when known by its brand names like TASER or STINGER.  It is a less than lethal force use option.

A lot has been written and said about these devices and whether they are good or bad.  Here at Auburn Hills we have used TASERS for about 5 years.  We did quite a bit of research, discussed and debated their value at length and gave it very serious thought.  Historically police have had very limited tools to use in this aspect of our work.  But when faced with a combative person, we need to have every reasonable tool possible.  This type of situation is often violent and rapidly evolving and the officers must make quick decisions to protect themselves and others.  It is true that we use force in only a fraction of our public encounters.  In 2009 here in  Auburn Hills we used force in about 1% of  arrest situations out of over 1800 arrests and that is pretty consistent year to year.

In the past we had our pistols, then we added night sticks (not a particularly good option), we had pepper spray which was a big advancement.  The newest tool is the Electro-Muscular Disruption device or TASER. 

I believe that the public wants us to use force when necessary–after all we are the only institution in civilian society that is authorized to use force on the population–we are society’s “or else”  in other words, a person must follow the laws of society “or else” and we are that “or else.’  I also believe that the public doesn’t want us to take lives if it can be avoided.  In particular that is true when we are dealing with people who are irrational due to mental illness.  These days persons who are mentally ill have fewer resources and so do their families and the community as a whole.  When a person is unable to control themselves due to their mental state the police are very often called and we must take the person into custody and deliver them to a hospital for treatment.  It can be a long , difficult and painful process.  We realize we are on a rescue mission–not an arrest mission, so we want to limit the potential for injury to the individual and certainly we want to avoid injury to ourselves.  Our choice to use TASER as a tool to help us contain people has been a good choice, in my opinion.

As you can see the device is bright yellow to help us and other observers distinguish between the TASER and our pistols.  The green end cap is the end of the detachable cartridge which contains the two small prongs and the approximately 21 feet of wire.  When the device is fired, the prongs fly out and attach to a person’s skin.  They complete the circuit for an electrical charge to be sent to the person’s body.  They suffer an immediate loss of control of their voluntary muscles and fall to the ground.  It does not affect the heart or breathing of a healthy person. It is a very brief burst and during the brief period of time following the electrical surge, the officers have a chance to take control of the person and handcuff them.  The person is almost immediately back in total control of themselves and sometime will return to fighting with the officers.  We have not had any circumstance where we had a person who suffered any long or short term effects from the device.

Every year we review and analyze our force use, situation by situation.  In particular we examine our use of TASER to make sure that we are following all of the rules we have set for ourselves and the best practices of our profession.  In the past 2 years we have only used the device twice in each year, 2008 and 2009.  In both cases all rules were followed.  In the first few years, we used them more frequently.  Now that the public and the officers are more aware of the capabilities of the device we use it less frequently. 

I feel that it has proven to be a useful device.

Posted by

I'm the Chief of Police for the Auburn Hills Police Department.