The Impact of TASERs on Police Use-of-force Decisions Findings From a Randomized Field-training Experiment

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TheImpact of TASERs on Police Use-of-force Decisions: Findings From aRandomized Field-training Experiment

TheImpact of TASERs on Police Use-of-force Decisions: Findings From aRandomized Field-training Experiment

Policeofficers have for a long time devised and used several approaches todeal with suspects from using the hands, batons and sometimes drawingor firing guns (Westley, 1970). In the recent past, policedepartments have come to embrace the application of conducted energydevices, especially in the United States. One of the most common CEDis the TASER device, particularly the M26 and X26 versions (Griffith,2003). Government data indicates that more than 7000 agencies acrossthe United States are utilizing the gadgets. This translates to theissuance of approximately 140,000 TASERS with more than 70,000discharges (Seattle Police Department, 2004). Experts have shown allindication concerning the impending increase of TASER use in thepolice departments. Despite being a significant technologicaladvance, several contentions are arising concerning the safety,possible detrimental physiological effects and the potential misuseby the police. A study done by Amnesty International indicated thatclose to 290 individuals died between 2001 and 2007 in the USA andCanada with the TASER device taking the blame for 20 of theincidences (Amnesty International, 2007). Apparently, there is arelationship between prevailing cardiac conditions, drug use andpolice force and the possibility of fatalities. Additionally, therehas been an uproar from the American Civil Liberties Union concerningthe utilization of the TASER by police officers even in situationsthat do not pose any immediate danger or risk to the officers. Thisarticle takes an in-depth look at the introduction of the TASER andhow it has influenced the decision-making process of police officersto use or not to use force when dealing with suspects (Sousa et al.,2010).

Proponentsof the TASER device insist that the method is efficient and much lesslethal compared to the use of other methods. They purport that bothinjury and death can be avoided, especially when the police officersprefer to use it rather than another means that can lead to death forinstance guns (Amnesty International, 2004). In this way, a lot morefatalities are avoided. The TASER works by disrupting the heartrhythm leading to a medical condition known as ventricularfibrillation (International Electrotechnical Commission, 1994). Theassessment of effectiveness is not the primary concern of this paper,although important as well. On the other hand, the circumstances andconditions in which the CED is put into use as alternatives to otherless-fatal or more deadly and their effectiveness is what is mostconcerning. Likewise, the conditions in which the TASER is usedrather than conventional weapons has come under scrutiny. For thesereasons, an experimental study based on random design was conductedto establish the actual impact of TASER on the use of forcedecision-making of police officers (Alpert &amp Dunham, 2004). Oneof the major assumptions recognized is that the police use the TASERmore while the utilization of other conventional weapons such asbatons, pepper sprays, and firearms have reduced based on the degreeof suspects’ resistance of arrest (International Association ofChiefs of Police, 2005).

Insummary, the experiment conducted was made up of scenarios where thetrainers acted as suspect officers while the trainee officers wererequired to react based on the defendant’s behavior in a seeminglynatural setting. The levels of resistance were categorized into threestages. The purpose of the study was simply to establish whetherofficers with TASERs differed in response from those without thedevices and also based on suspect resistance. Once the analysis wascomplete, it was discovered that the police officers who had theTASER are less likely to apply pepper sprays or the baton when thesuspect is aggressive and physically resists arrest. Further analysisalso indicates that police officers armed with the TASER are notlikely to utilize their firearms, even when facing a suspect with apotentially lethal level of resistance. Concerning defendants withpassive degrees of resistance, there was no difference in officerbehavior. In general, the group not equipped with TASERs tended touse empty hand force and pepper spray more often compared to the oneswith TASERs (Ready et al., 2008). However, the difference is almostinsignificant.


Thefindings of this study reveal quite relevant information with themost important being that the presence and accessibility of the TASERdo not have a significant influence on the decision to use less fataloptions during cases of passive suspects. The fact that TASER use isassociated with reductions in the application of pepper spray andbatons during arrests is an indicator that there is a possible shiftin the use of coercive measures. There must be a reason as to why thepolice tend to use the gadget the topmost being the ability to use itat a safer distance from the suspect as well as its capacity torender the suspect immobile. As such, it is much more sensible tounderstand the underlying reasons as to why the officers preferTASERs over conventional approaches during aggressive encounterssince the finding will help in establishing better use and improvingefficiency. Other than that, this scenario-based research study canalso be utilized to understand the views of the officers and afterthat make a decision that will ensure proper use, improvement, andultimately fewer fatalities.


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