Because the high-powered Taser has been so swiftly fielded by so many agencies, there is no consensus on how officers who carry the weapon should be trained. The manufacturer of the weapon, Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Taser International, employs a cadre of trainers and master trainers with the goal of providing instruction to agencies that deploy Tasers, but not every agency follows the Taser International program and even those that do often skirt the issue of whether officers need to be shot with the weapon to understand it.
Steve Tuttle, Taser International’s director of government and law enforcement affairs, says the company itself has relaxed its stance on whether officers should receive a taste of the Taser before they carry the weapon. “The company used to have its national instructor trainers teach that certified instructors should make exposure to the Taser mandatory in basic user programs. Our position currently regarding instructor level training is that we ‘strongly urge’ our instructor candidates to be exposed. We leave it to the decision of individual agencies to make it mandatory or voluntary for the basic user.”
Despite the fact that Taser International no longer emphasizes that all users should be stunned with the weapon, Tuttle believes there are many reasons for departments to consider mandatory exposure. “Officers will understand the importance of safety and survival during field use as well as a better understanding and knowledge of what the Taser can actually do if they have experienced it,” he says.
Taser International has also discovered that one shock from a Taser gun is way more effective than thousands of words from instructors. Tuttle says the company has conducted exhaustive research on the issue of exposure in training, and it has concluded that exposure is the best way to open the eyes of potential users and dispel some of the myths about the Taser.
One such myth is that the Taser can trigger cardiac arrest. “Those that do not understand the weapon believe that it can stop the target’s heart,” says Tuttle. “This is because they don’t understand how the Taser actually affects the body.” Tuttle believes that one quick way to dispel this concern is to shoot the officer with the Taser and let him or her discover that the weapon is very effective but does no harm.
Even though Taser’s research shows that the weapon has no lasting physical effect on its targets, many agencies are skittish about requiring their officers to take a shock.
Veteran police trainers believe that agencies are gun-shy about Taser exposure because of the legal flak that some encountered when they required officers who carry OC spray to be hit with the spray in training.
In the mid-‘90s, defensive tactics instructors and use-of-force experts nationwide were stressing the importance of exposure to “live” pepper spray (OC) in training. Police trainers argued that officers needed to know what to expect in the field should they receive an indirect hit of pepper spray during a confrontation. Accordingly, trainers structured their pepper spray courses to include light or indirect exposure to their department’s issue pepper spray. In these programs, officers were required to perform a series of tasks such as using a baton, handcuffing a suspect, pulling the trigger of an unloaded firearm, and/or performing a reload of an empty magazine after getting a face full of OC.
Initially some officers resisted the exposure and a few officers even attempted to have the practice stopped through legal action. However, a majority of officers nationwide have now come to realize that OC exposure in training is beneficial.
Taking a hit of OC in training teaches officers the strengths and weaknesses of pepper spray. Also, because the deploying officer has been exposed to OC he or she can easily explain why greater force is required on a subject who manages to overcome the effects of the aerosol.
Use-of-force experts argue that similar benefits can be derived by shooting officers with a Taser in Taser training.