Ultimately, the decision to expose officers to a less-lethal weapon in training is up to the individual agency’s administrators.
Chief David G. Bishop of the Beaverton (Ore.) Police Department was recently faced with this decision regarding the Department’s Taser training. Bishop says he made his decision using the following analogy, “If officers are going to deliver pain, they should probably experience the pain.”
Bishop explains that his goal is not to torture his officers, it’s to help them justify their use of Tasers, especially if a Taser is deployed multiple times on one individual. “They need to know what the subjects are experiencing,” he says.
One thing Bishop emphasizes is that it’s important for chiefs to listen to their use-of-force instructors on issues like Taser exposure. “My instructors usually do not have to convince me that what they want to do is right. I empower them to make the right decisions,” he says.
Lethal vs. Less-Lethal Training
Often it’s not the chiefs that have to be convinced. Most people are not too thrilled at the prospect of being shot with an electric weapon, and police officers are no exception. Skittish officers tend to argue that they do not have to be shot with their gun or struck with their baton to understand the effects of those weapons, and they ask why the Taser is any different.
Taser trainers say the difference is that officers know very well the effects of being struck with a baton or shot with a pistol. And for obvious reasons, officers can’t be shot with a pistol or struck with a baton in training. In contrast, with Tasers and pepper spray, use-of-force experts can design training that exposes officers to the effects of the weapons.
Once an agency decides to acquire and deploy Tasers, it then must establish carry policies and training requirements for officers who are permitted to carry the weapon. One of the training decisions that must be considered is whether to shoot the officers with the Taser during the training program.
An informal survey of agencies in the Portland, Ore., metropolitan area shows that in most of their training programs Taser exposure is voluntary. But interestingly enough, an overwhelming majority of officers who attend the training courses elect to be exposed.
Police trainers say that exposure to the Taser during training pays many dividends. “Once officers are exposed and experience the debilitating effects of the Taser, it makes them a real believer and gives them ‘buy in’ to the program,” says Officer Tom Forsyth, a Portland Police Bureau trainer. “Exposure is essential. Officers who have been exposed to the Taser can formulate quickly what to do if their Taser falls into a suspect’s hands. They know how to quickly make contingency plans and also know to practice good retention skills during close confrontations.”
When to Shoot
Chris Lamberger, senior training officer for the Beaverton Police Department, says that the timing of when to shoot officers with the Taser in training is critical to the success of the class.
“Taser International suggests a basic user course of four hours,” says Lamberger. “Design your lesson plan so that for the first hour you introduce the basics of the Taser, its success rates, how it works (on the body), basic function checks, and cartridge load and unload. At the start of hour two, do your qualification fire, and then do your live exposures.
“Otherwise, for four hours, your students will be sitting there wondering what the exposure is going to feel like. During the two-and-a-half hours after the exposure, you will have a much more attentive audience with their minds on the important issues such as deployment, reporting/documentation, and the like,” Lamberger adds.