FREE e-Newsletter
Important News - Hot Topics
Get them Now!
Doug  Wyllie

Doug Wyllie

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).
December 2018 (2)
November 2018 (5)
October 2018 (4)
September 2018 (3)
August 2018 (6)
July 2018 (4)
June 2018 (3)
April 2018 (1)
March 2018 (2)
January 2018 (1)
September 2017 (1)
August 2017 (1)
May 2017 (1)
April 2017 (1)
January 2017 (1)
November 2016 (1)
September 2016 (1)
June 2016 (2)
May 2016 (3)
April 2016 (2)
March 2016 (1)
February 2016 (3)
January 2016 (1)
December 2015 (1)
November 2015 (5)
October 2015 (1)
September 2015 (3)
August 2015 (3)
July 2015 (6)
June 2015 (3)
May 2015 (2)
April 2015 (3)
March 2015 (5)
February 2015 (1)
January 2015 (1)
December 2014 (9)
October 2014 (2)
September 2014 (2)
August 2014 (2)
July 2014 (1)
June 2014 (2)
May 2014 (2)
April 2014 (4)
March 2014 (2)
February 2014 (3)
January 2014 (3)
December 2013 (2)
November 2013 (2)
October 2013 (3)
September 2013 (5)
August 2013 (3)
July 2013 (3)
June 2013 (3)
May 2013 (4)
April 2013 (3)
March 2013 (5)
February 2013 (3)
January 2013 (3)
December 2012 (5)
November 2012 (2)
October 2012 (4)
September 2012 (2)
August 2012 (5)
July 2012 (4)
June 2012 (3)
May 2012 (5)
April 2012 (6)
March 2012 (5)
February 2012 (3)
January 2012 (5)
December 2011 (5)
November 2011 (3)
October 2011 (3)
September 2011 (3)
August 2011 (2)
July 2011 (2)
June 2011 (3)
May 2011 (4)
April 2011 (3)
March 2011 (5)
February 2011 (3)
January 2011 (3)
December 2010 (2)
November 2010 (4)
October 2010 (4)
September 2010 (5)
August 2010 (4)
July 2010 (4)
June 2010 (4)
May 2010 (4)
April 2010 (3)
March 2010 (3)
February 2010 (1)
January 2010 (3)
December 2009 (4)
November 2009 (4)
October 2009 (2)
September 2009 (3)
August 2009 (4)
July 2009 (5)
June 2009 (3)
May 2009 (5)
April 2009 (4)
March 2009 (4)
February 2009 (3)
January 2009 (2)
December 2008 (4)
November 2008 (3)
October 2008 (3)
September 2008 (3)
August 2008 (2)
July 2008 (3)
June 2008 (4)
May 2008 (5)
April 2008 (5)
March 2008 (4)
February 2008 (5)
January 2008 (3)
December 2007 (2)
November 2007 (5)
October 2007 (4)
September 2007 (4)
August 2007 (5)
July 2007 (4)
June 2007 (4)
May 2007 (5)

A Shocking Proposition

Do officers equipped with TASERs still need backup? You bet they do.

June 06, 2008  |  by - Also by this author

I received this question in our "Ask the Expert" mailbox the other day, and I felt it needed a comprehensive response. It reads: "One of our department personnel recently commented (something to the effect) that the effective and proper use of TASERs has reduced the need for backup officers. Any thoughts on this?"

I thank the poster for taking the time to share this question with the rest of us. And yes, I do have some thoughts on it.

First, to think that a fellow law enforcement like the officer on the poster's department would claim that TASERs have obviated the need for backup officers is stunning.

Don't get me wrong. Personally, I love the TASER, having been witness to its efficacy in numerous field situations. I believe that officers should have a variety of less-lethal options available to them, and I would be hard pressed to think of another less-lethal tool that is as widely deployed and equally effective as the TASER.

Indeed, the public's growing awareness of the TASER is such that it has even gained the psychological impact of a shotgun being racked: Once aware of its presence, many subjects display instant compliance. Those who don't become converts soon enough. You can watch testimony from the converted at this link.

But as much as I am a believer in the TASER, I also believe even the strongest TASER proponents would pause before claiming that the TASER has negated the need for a backup officer.

And with good reasons.

For one, the TASER is much like any other tool. Sometimes when you use it, it doesn't achieve the effect that you hoped it would. A suspect's size, his or her degree of intoxication, the distance between him or her and the TASER wielding officer, the type of clothing he or she is wearing, his or her movements, and other factors can reduce the effectiveness of a TASER.

In a study of the Seattle Police Department's first-year use of the M-26 TASER, officers were able to make "verified TASER contact" only 86 percent of the time. The reason for this is easily understood; people tend to move when you try to TASER them.

That same Seattle study documented that in five percent of the cases in which contact was confirmed, the M-26s did not deliver "a disabling or partially disabling effect." This was probably due to weak batteries in the TASERs. And I would bet that the results are better with the X26, and its improved battery pack.

The Seattle study doesn't mean that the TASER isn't a great tool. Believe me, it is. I would put the TASER's success rates up against any other less-lethal weapon, and I would win that bet.
But there are times when a TASER should never be deployed such as when you are confronted by a suspect wielding a firearm. Sadly, more than one officer has paid the price for thinking otherwise.

Such realities factor into how we handle volatile field situations and why we appoint designated shooters, less-lethal weaponry officers, and arrest teams. These clear-cut areas of responsibility simultaneously give us a wide range of force options while freeing individual officers from the distraction of having to make some split-second use-of-force adjustment. Such designations of force options have helped officers successfully end thousands of field situations involving everything from domestic disturbances to agitated drunks to violent offenders of all stripes.

Yes, I can imagine situations where a TASER has mitigated the need for a backup officer. But in a vast majority of such cases, I believe that determination could only be made with the advantage of hindsight and well after the incident has been resolved.

This is part of the reason that I find a categorical claim that the availability of TASERs in the field mitigates the need for a backup officer is not only grossly irresponsible, but a prescription for disaster. Not only does such thinking encourage "one man army" attitudes, it also removes other options such as the availability of a second officer who may develop a rapport with the subject in question, thereby negating the need for force.

Personally, I think we need all the backup we can get. I'm an advocate for two-person cars. Realistically, I know that we ain't going back to that system. But I do think it's reasonable for us to expect sufficient field coverage so that officers have a realistic expectation of prompt backup.

My read of the poster's question leaves me with the nagging suspicion that someone on his agency may have been trying to use the availability of TASERs to justify an environment wherein backup officers are either not deployed or not requested, probably to save money.

And that concept is not only stunning, it's dangerous.

Comments (4)

Displaying 1 - 4 of 4

ROB ROY @ 6/10/2008 8:47 PM

Anybody that think's a patrolman doesnt need a back up because he/she carries a taser is a complete idiot. That is unless someone comes up with a force field for all of us

David Moore S-55 @ 6/11/2008 7:40 PM

Excellent training – safety advice, the less than lethal tools compliment not take away from the human interactions. I’m a strong follower of always using backup when available, as a Taser cannot see or hear potential problems brewing attacks – aware backup can! Where I lived we had two subdivisions close by that were known as trouble spots w/gangs. These areas are located next to fields and irrigation ditches/canals. During potential vehicle stops drivers would lead you onto, into, either to flee or set you up for being attacked. If it involved unknown risks (most do), the potential in this area of gang members on board – and likely you could expect two and up to six inside vehicles and likely armed. There is another reason for this route to ditch weapons into darkness hard to locate. There are also many calls for service adjacent to these subdivisions “Loud music, fights, shots fired, domestics etc. The disadvantage is you have to use lights giving away your position otherwise end up in drink, or stuck. The key to officer/deputy safety is always knowing how this maze connects in this area surround access streets, so backup – responding units, can use to seal escape routes with show of force – lessen chances of conflict when they bail. This is an extremely dangerous area even with the support of K9, Air units, factors of terrain/low light. Your officer’s safety should always take precedence over money, that’s what leaders do!! Period!

dfeleccia @ 6/12/2008 6:25 AM

Recently, a Florida deputy respponded to a domestic where the male subject was on a porch at the rear of the residence. As the deputy approached this subject, he saw where the subject had a knife. The deputy pulled his Taser and ordered this subject to drop the knife. Upon deploying the Taser, there was no effect (unknown if one probe missed or what the reason was) and the subject now began stabbing the deputy. The deputy was finally able to pull his duty weapon in an attempt to shoot this subject shot himself in the leg and finally, did fatally shoot the bad guy. The deputy received several stab woounds and a gunshot wound. I posted the newspaper article for my patrol officers to see and read so they know that as great a tool the Taser is, it is NOT the tool for every encounter. I can understand what the deputy was trying to do but when a subject is threatening you with deadly force, then your response should be at least equal if not greater than theirs.

pmrpelican @ 5/1/2009 11:39 AM

Back up Officers are a necessity no matter what type of call you go on because you never know what may happen. Okaloosa Deputy's Lopez and York were attempting to arrest an individual after a Domestic Violence incident. One of the Deputy's utilized a TASER but after the 5 second second cyle ended, the suspect immediately produced a concealed handgun and killed both Deputy's (may the rest in peace. ), and I just attended their funerals. Dont ever think that your weapons are a cure all and dont ever cancell your back up just because you think it is a routine call. I pray for the Families of Deputy's Lopez and York and for all brother and sister officers in the field because the violence is out of control

Join the Discussion

POLICE Magazine does not tolerate comments that include profanity, personal attacks or antisocial behavior (such as "spamming" or "trolling"). This and other inappropriate content or material will be removed. We reserve the right to block any user who violates this, including removing all content posted by that user.

Other Recent Blog Posts

Politics Trumping Tactics: [Don't] Sit Down… You're Rocking the Boat
Elected officials have one underlying goal that informs and influences all their other...
Foot and Hoof Patrol: Meaningfully Connecting Cops and Citizens
Foot patrol is the essence of community policing—officers on foot create opportunities for...

Police Magazine