University Police integrates Tasers into policy

Some University Police (UP) officers may be seen carrying new equipment this semester on campus Electronic Control Devices (ECDs), commonly referred to as Tasers.

The new ECD policy was adopted by UP over the summer for use as another tool and option to gain control of a situation, Lt. Charlotte Domingo, UP public information officer, said.

Tasers, which are electroshock weapons, can be used at a distance by ejecting electrically charged barbs that attach to a subject and freeze his or her muscles until the person is immobilized, or can be pushed against the subject and used directly.
No incident in particular caused UP to implement the policy, but it was something UP had been looking at creating for a long time now, Domingo said.

Before the addition of ECDs, UP would use other weapons, such as metal batons or pepper spray, in situations where an ECD may have been considered. Domingo said she was unsure of any specific instances where these weapons were needed, but they would be used in cases where a person was actively resisting an officers orders.

Domingo said to her knowledge, UP has not used its Tasers yet. However, there have been a couple of cases, she said, where officers have had to take them out. The subject was then given a warning that if they continued to not comply with the officers orders, the device would be used.

In both cases, the subject complied right away after the warning was given, and employment of the device was not needed, she said.

We feel this is just another tool available to us to avoid injury to officers, as well as others involved (in an incident), Domingo said.

UPs policy requires officers who carry Tasers to undergo a six-hour training by a certified instructor.

Domingo said the new policy, which UP developed, determines what appropriate situations are for Taser use. The policy lists examples such as when a subject is exhibiting threatening body language associated with verbal threats, or refusing to comply with an officers instructions.

Lori Fridell, a criminology professor who has studied police use of force and force policy for 25 years and served as the Director of Research at the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) in Washington, D.C., before she joined USF in 2005, said while she supports the implementation of Tasers, she is not a fan of UPs policy.

I have read many, many ECD policies, and yet Im confused by this policy when I read it, she said. What about the officer who must recollect this policy when they are in the heat of battle, so to speak? A confusing policy such as this one can lead to inappropriate uses of force. This is potentially a significant liability issue for the university.

The ECD policy also states that no (officer) shall experience the sensation of an ECD discharge during training or under any other circumstances either at their own hand or that of another.

Fridell said that part of the policy is questionable, and worries that officers who do not have experience with the consequences of using an ECD may be more willing to use it.

While departments are moving away from requiring officers to experience the ECD, I have never read a policy where it is prohibited, she said. It is not logical for a chief to say that he is adopting this weapon because it is a safe alternative, and then disallow anyone in his department from experiencing it. Why, if it is so safe for USF students, is it not sufficiently safe for volunteering USF officers? Theres a contradiction here.

Domingo said prohibiting officers to feel the impacts is part of guidelines set by PERF in its 2011 study on ECD guidelines, which states that agencies should be aware that exposure to ECW application during training could result in injury to personnel and is not recommended. Any agency that does include ECW application as part of training should not make it mandatory for certification, and should ensure that safety protocols are rigorously followed.

The guidelines also state that Tasers come with risks of fatal and other serious outcomes that could result from repeated and multiple uses of the ECD on a subject, using the ECD for more than 15 seconds at a time or using more than one ECD on a subject at the same time.

Fridell noted the fall a victim takes when an ECD is used on them is a large contributor to ECD-related injuries.

It takes your muscles out from under you, she said.

But on the whole, Fridell thinks it is wise that UP will be using ECDs.

I think it is positive that the USF police adopted ECDs, she said. These are important weapons for police to have in their arsenal. The overwhelming majority of people who experience ECD activations have no negative after-effects that can be linked to the electric activation. It can be used as an alternative to other types of force that have more adverse outcomes. These weapons can displace or prevent the use of deadly force in some situations.