Rethinking Taser Reliance in Law Enforcement

Oct 10 / Shawn Miller
Striking the Balance between Safety and Effectiveness in Suspect Apprehension

Law enforcement encounters vary greatly, requiring officers to adapt their approach based on factors such as a suspect's mental state, substance influence, and pain tolerance. However, a concerning trend has emerged where Tasers have become the default option for officers when dealing with resistance or non-compliance from a suspect. Reviewing bodycam footage reveals instances where Tasers fail to achieve electro-muscular incapacitation (EMI), leaving officers uncertain about how to proceed.

The issue of Taser reliance in law enforcement has become widespread, highlighting the need for comprehensive training and a more balanced approach.

The Challenges of Taser Reliance:

Limited effectiveness: Studies have shown that Tasers can be unreliable up to 40% of the time. Some departments report even higher failure rates. When EMI is not achieved, Tasers become a pain compliance tool. Suspects under the influence of substances or with a high pain threshold may not be affected by the Taser's pain compliance aspect, rendering it ineffective.

Escalation after Taser failure: Disturbingly, incidents have occurred where suspects became more aggressive after Taser failure. In some cases, officers panic or appear unsure of how to proceed, potentially jeopardizing both their safety and the suspect's. From 2015 – 2019, there were 258 fatal shootings by police officers after a Taser failed to incapacitate the suspect. In 106 of those incidents, it’s stated that the situation escalated after the taser failure.

Over-reliance on Tasers: While Tasers can be valuable tools, relying too heavily on them poses risks. The failure rate of Tasers, combined with the limited effectiveness against certain individuals, underscores the need for a more balanced approach that includes a wider range of control tactics.

The Call for Comprehensive Training:

Emphasizing hands-on control tactics: Implementing and consistently training officers in hands-on control tactics is crucial. Developing a skill set and self-confidence in techniques such as Jiu Jitsu and wrestling enables officers to quickly and effectively take a resisting suspect into custody while minimizing the risk of injury to both parties.

Understanding body mechanics and pressure application: Properly applied pressure, which utilizes an individual's own energy against them, has proven to be more effective at restraining suspects than pain compliance. Training officers to apply pressure in a controlled manner can lead to successful outcomes with minimal force required.

Technique-based curriculum: Curricula, like the one at EFCombatives, that focus on fundamental techniques and concepts rather than complex procedures are valuable. This approach allows officers to adapt their responses based on the situation, environment, and suspect's actions, enhancing their ability to seamlessly transition from one technique to another. It also allows the techniques to be learned more quickly and retained better.
Tasers undoubtedly serve a purpose in law enforcement as non-lethal alternatives to firearms. However, over-reliance on Tasers and their failure rates calls for a more comprehensive approach that prioritizes hands-on control tactics, understanding of body mechanics, and consistent training.

By providing officers with a diverse skill set and the ability to adapt to various scenarios, law enforcement agencies can strike a better balance between ensuring officer safety and effectively taking suspects into custody while promoting accountability and public trust.