Seattle Police Department (SPD) Special Report on Taser Implementation Year 1

The Seattle Police Department (SPD), has issued a report on their implementation and use of the M26 Taser.

The SPD report shows that the M26 Taser is an effective tool for use in temporarily disabling or stopping a suspect/attacker.

It has the obvious benefit over a firearm, of being effective, but less than lethal.

Also, if it was taken away from the user, the chance that it then could be used, to seriously injure or kill, would be greatly diminished.

In a home use situation, the chance of a child accessing the device or one similar to it, and then seriously injuring or killing another with it, would be greatly diminished.

The device is battery operated. That and other considerations/concerns having to do with its practicality are addressed in the report.

This is a text version of the report that as of 5/15/03, is available on the web as a PDF file at: http://www.cityofseattle.net/police/ Publications/Special/M26Taser.PDF

Only minor formatting changes, such as displaying footnotes as (1), (2), (3), have been made to the body of the report.

My simple, low cost, low tech, practical and effective aiming aid, (the P&S Index Finger Rest), would enhance the M26 Taser or similar device.



The M26 Taser

Year One Implementation

In May 2000, the Mayor and City Council asked the Seattle Police Department to consider expanding the availability of less lethal options for patrol officers. The Department established an internal study group, the Force Options Research Group (FORG), to examine less lethal alternatives and make recommendations of options that might be adopted. The FORG provided technical, training, and policy expertise. A Community Workgroup, convened at the same time, provided the viewpoint of citizens and other stakeholders as they examined less lethal weapons options and made recommendations concerning them.

Both the FORG and the Community Workgroup completed their studies in September 2000, forwarding strikingly similar recommendations to the Mayor and City Council. The proposals of both groups emphasized training, particularly training in dealing with mentally ill persons and those in other types of crises, as well as acquisition of new less lethal devices. The two less lethal devices that were recommended were the M26 Taser and the less lethal shotgun with drag stabilized beanbag rounds.

The Department's report identified the numbers of less lethal devices and the amount and type of training that would be required to ensure that some less lethal option could be available across the City, across all patrol watches, on a 24x7 basis. It was estimated that this goal could be reached over a two-year implementation period that would include acquisition, testing, and training on new less lethal devices and expansion of crisis intervention skills training for patrol officers. The Mayor and City Council both supported a special funding allocation for the Department's Less Lethal Options Program in the 2001-2002 biennial budget. Seeking to expedite implementation of the Program, the City Council provided some of this funding in late 2000 in the form of an emergency appropriation.

This report focuses on the Department's progress in implementing that portion of the Less Lethal Options Program pertaining to the M26 Taser. It begins with a description of the device and its role in the broader use of force spectrum. Next, the report describes the Department's approach to acquiring, testing, training, and deploying the M26 Taser. Also included is a discussion of the Department's field experience with the device in the first year of implementation. The Report concludes with some reflections on lessons learned in the first year of the taser portion of the Department's Less Lethal Options Program.

Summary of Key Findings in the Report

- By the end of 2001, the Department had met and exceeded its biennial goal of deploying 130 M-26 Tasers among Patrol officers, with 136 deployed.

- Distribution of tasers is roughly even across all four precincts. In nearly 60% of the 106 incidents, the taser officer was among the first responding officers to the scene.

- Tasers were used in a wide variety of incidents. Calls involving mentally ill/suicidal subjects and traffic-related incidents are the types of situations in which tasers were most often used.

- Sixty-three taser subjects (nearly 60%) were impaired, often severely, by alcohol, drugs, or a mental illness or delusion.

- A quarter of the taser subjects were armed, most often with knives. Sixteen of twenty-six (62%) of the armed subjects were also impaired, usually by mental illness.

- Taser subjects were most often males (94%), between the ages of 21-40 (67%). About half the subjects were Caucasian and another 42% were African American.

- Tasers were used in the dart projectile mode about 60% of the time; in the stun mode, 27% of the time; and both modes were used 12% of the time.

- Verified taser contact was obtained in 86% of the incidents. Where there was verified contact, the taser delivered a disabling or partially disabling effect 95% of the time.

- In 85% of all of the incidents and in 92% of the incidents where contact was verified, the taser was credited with controlling the subject or bringing the situation to a resolution.

- Both officers and subjects reported low rates of injury during taser incidents when compared with other use of force situations. No injuries were directly attributable to the taser device.

The M26 Taser - What is it and what's it for?

Taser characteristics - Tasers have been in use for over 20 years by law enforcement agencies. However, earlier versions of the device were widely seen as unreliable and not very accurate. In addition, the optimal distance for use was short, about 6 feet. The M26 Taser is a patented device manufactured by Taser International of Scottsdale, AZ. Looking much like an officer's service weapon, the M26 Taser is laser-sited and uses cartridges attached to the end of the barrel. The cartridges project a pair of prongs or darts on copper wires over distances from roughly 6 to 21 feet. The device sends 26 watts of electricity at over 50,000 volts over the copper wires, with the effect of overriding a target's motor and sensory systems. Without the cartridge, the M26 Taser can function as a contact stun device. In either mode, the M26 delivers its electrical charge in a five-second cycle (which can be repeated), but once the cycle ends or is broken, the effects immediately disappear. Despite the use of an electrical charge, the M26 Taser has not been found to be harmful to persons with pacemakers or having other unusual health conditions.

The FORG report recommended acquisition of the M26 Taser for a variety of reasons. First, with the look and feel so much like a service weapon, the M26 appeared to be a device that would be easy for officers to learn to use proficiently. Second, the M26 provided a safer deployment range for officers (6 to 21 feet) than had been true with earlier tasers, where the range was 6 to 9 feet. This offered the potential for disabling a subject at a standoff range that would provide better safety and protection for officers. Third, the M26 promised the possibility of gaining compliance without resulting injury or lasting effects to the subject or officers. The ability to subdue non-compliant subjects with no harmful effects or risk of permanent injury was an especially attractive feature of the device. Finally, the M26 was a moderately-priced less lethal option that had some useful administrative review features.

Taser purpose and use - The M26 taser is intended to provide officers with a force option to help in overcoming a subject's combative intent, physical resistance, and/or assaultive behavior; in disabling or subduing persons bent on harming themselves or others; or in providing self-defense. As with all applications of force, officers using less lethal options are expected to use necessary and reasonable force to effect a lawful purpose. "Necessary and reasonable" uses are defined by the totality of the circumstances that confront officers.

In no situation is an officer required to use less force than is being threatened by a subject. Moreover, officers are cautioned against the use of a less lethal option, such as a taser, when confronting lethal threats, except when an armed and ready officer is available and in place to provide protection for officers employing these tools, as well as for innocent parties.

In its training materials, the Department provides an assessment of less lethal options from a use of force perspective. The M26 Taser, when used as a touch stun device, is viewed as a lesser use of force than OC spray and on a par with pain compliance techniques such as wrist locks and control holds. When used with the dart projectiles, the M26 is viewed as a greater use of force than pain compliance techniques, but a lesser one than punches, kicks, or the use of other impact weapons. Locating less lethal options on a use of force continuum lets officers know how these devices compare with other uses of force with which they are more familiar. Since such assessments cannot take into account the circumstances faced by officers that may warrant greater or lesser force responses, they remain guidelines and do not substitute for the professional judgment of officers in individual cases. (Attached is the use of force continuum used as a training tool by the Seattle Police Department.)

Several caveats concerning the use of less lethal options were made explicit in the FORG report. These apply particularly to the M26 taser. First, the report noted that the Department was planning a limited deployment of less lethal devices. The planned deployment provided for one taser officer per sector squad per watch, or about 20% of overall patrol strength. The practical effect of such a deployment is that there would remain many instances where less lethal options are not available to officers called to respond to specific incidents. As a second caveat, the FORG report indicated that the availability of less lethal options would not necessarily guarantee their use. Rather it was noted that situational dynamics, in particular the timing and volatility of an incident, dictate the response of officers. High-risk, rapidly evolving situations, for example, do not lend themselves to application of a broad range of options, even if some of these options happen to be available. Other factors, such as the amount of time an officer has to react to the threat, the officer's relative proximity to the person posing the threat, the ability to isolate or contain the person posing the threat, can also affect the decision to deploy a less lethal option. And as noted earlier, the capacity to use less lethal options safely is dependent upon the availability of lethal force as protection and backup for the officers involved.

A final caveat identified in the FORG report was that less lethal options should be clearly understood as supplements to - and not substitutes for - deadly force. In this regard, less lethal options do not constitute "first steps" in some progression of responses, nor are officers required to exhaust all less lethal options before resorting to deadly force. Based on the circumstances confronting them, officers may still respond with the lethal options available to them if the situation warrants a deadly force response.

The M26 Taser - Getting Started

Initial Implementation Steps- In order to ensure follow-through on the Department's Less Lethal Options Program, the FORG was charged with program implementation and ongoing study and review, under the auspices of the Deputy Chief of Operations. The emergency appropriation provided by the City Council permitted acquisition of the first installment of 66 M26 Tasers in late 2000. In the last few months of the year, the Department took steps to expedite certification of M-26 taser instructors and development of a training curriculum for the device. SWAT officers visited and consulted with other jurisdictions on their less lethal options training classes and on the operational considerations and guidelines employed in their less lethal programs. Based on the information gathered, a train-the-trainer program for M26 Taser instructors was drafted as was the lesson plan for the four-hour training course for taser officers. Both were reviewed and approved by the Training Section and Command Staff.

A Provisional Order was issued incorporating the M26 Taser into the Department's use of force policy (1) and an interim protocol was established for receipt and check-out of tasers and taser cartridges. In addition, the Department worked with the Seattle Fire Department to let them know that the taser would be deployed and that officers would be calling EMTs to the scene of deployments to check the condition of subjects and to remove taser darts. The city's largest trauma center, Harborview Medical Center, was also contacted to make their personnel aware of the Department's use of tasers, in case some subjects were transported there. These were among a number of recommendations received from other jurisdictions that had previously deployed the taser.

As the first tasers began to be used in the field, FORG members and taser instructors spoke with the officers involved and reviewed each incident to guide future training efforts. During this same period, the FORG developed draft guidelines for receipt and handling of tasers and taser supplies, the selection, training, and supervision of taser officers, and the documentation of taser deployments (2). Once this draft was completed and under Department review, the second installment of 64 tasers was ordered (April 2001).

The FORG reviewed the distribution of taser officers across precincts and watches in order to identify where there were gaps in coverage. The Group also continued to review the lessons being learned in the field by taser users. These were incorporated into the lesson plan for the taser training and certification course. Feedback from the field suggested that officer interest in the taser had only increased since the program was initiated. By August 2001, the Department issued a second Directive asking officers to express their interest in receiving less lethal options training and deployment, and identifying areas where additional coverage was needed. The result of this effort was a roster of more than 100 officers seeking less lethal training. In light of this level of interest and after a review of the Less Lethal Options Program budget, the Department decided to acquire a third installment of 64 tasers. These were ordered in September 2001.

Taser Officer Training - As the training course was being developed in the latter part of 2000, the Department began to solicit trainees. Patrol officers interested in being trained and assigned a taser were directed to notify their precinct commanders by December 1st. The names of these officers were then forwarded to Bureau commanders who made recommendations to the Deputy Chief of Operations charged with oversight of the Less Lethal Options Program. Despite the fact that the M26 was a new device, untested by SPD, more than 100 officers expressed interest in training and deploying it.

By late December 2000, the first training classes were held, resulting in the first group of patrol officers being deployed with the taser before the end of the calendar year. After another series of taser training classes was held in January 2001, sixty-six officers had been trained on the taser, with 51 of the devices deployed by patrol officers. Some of the initial trainees who were not assigned individual tasers were Advanced Training and Range officers, who were expected to take over the training program at some point. SWAT officers were not individually assigned tasers either. Instead, tasers are located in each SWAT vehicle for use by all unit officers certified to use them.

As noted above, once the tasers began to be used in the field, officers were debriefed by taser instructors to identify needed adjustments to the training program. One issue that surfaced early was the need to educate other officers about the device, how it works, and how a taser officer could best be used in various situations. By March 2001, the Advanced Training Section had developed a lesson plan and incorporated a segment on taser tactics into the Officer Street Skills class for all officers and sergeants. The Section also developed a two-hour supervisors' class focused on less lethal options. The course for taser officers was also revised to include more tactics training. The four-hour taser training course that has emerged combines classroom instruction (including a written test), drills and qualifications, and scenario-based training.

A second round of taser training and certification classes was scheduled in November 2001. When these classes were completed, the Department had not only met, but had exceeded, its goal of training and deploying 130 tasers in the ranks of first-response patrol officers.

Taser distribution - The Department has been very deliberate in its deployment of the M26 taser. Implementation has progressed in stages to ensure that training efforts would be refreshed by field experience and that the Department would continue to build on its base of knowledge and expertise. The Department's Less Lethal Options Program was designed to put at least one less lethal option in the hands of about 50% of patrol officers through a combination of expanded CIT certification, taser deployment, and less lethal shotgun deployment. From the beginning, then, the priority for taser distribution was to provide officers involved in first level response with this less lethal alternative. However, as confidence in and experience with the taser grew, others in the Department began to express interest in deploying with the device. Part of the decision to acquire a third installment of the tasers was to explore and support its deployment among such units.

The initial installment of 66 tasers was issued to officers who went through the first set of training courses. Fifty-one of the devices were distributed to officers working the street, eight were assigned to SWAT vehicles, five were used as trades or swap-outs because of malfunction or damage in training or initial use, and two were retained in Evidence for future trades in the event of any field problems. By the time of the second round of training classes, the Department had received the second and third taser installments. It had also received requests for training and certification from a number of specialty unit personnel and had developed guidelines to cover taser deployment by these units.

After the second round of taser training classes, the Department had issued a total of 158 tasers. Of these, 136 are deployed in patrol units, 14 in specialty units (including gangs, DUI, K-9, CIT), and 8 in SWAT vehicles. Another 20-25 officers have been trained and certified on the taser but have not been issued a device. These include training instructors and supervisory personnel. Among the four precincts, tasers are distributed as follows:

West- 45 tasers, including 4 in the ACT team
North- 35 tasers, including 4 in the ACT team
South- 31 tasers, including 2 in the ACT team
East- 25 tasers, including 2 in the ACT team

After retaining a few tasers in Evidence for trades or swap-outs, the Department now has about thirty more to distribute. Once again, the FORG is looking at coverage gaps in patrol units and evaluating the experience of speciality units in making recommendations for further taser deployments.

Operational Issues - In this first year of implementation, the Department has found that several operational issues are significant in ensuring the performance and reliability of the M-26 Taser. First, non-taser officers must understand how the taser operates. Officers need to know that a taser "hit" only lasts for a five second cycle unless reapplied. Also, it is possible for the taser effect to transfer to someone touching the subject, including a police officer. For this reason, taser officers need continually to make their peers aware when they plan to deploy the device so that other officers can avoid being affected by it.

A second issue pertains to the taser's power source, the batteries that are crucial to its performance. These must be checked regularly to ensure that the device will deliver a full charge when applied. It is recommended that officers "spark" their tasers at the beginning of each shift to determine if the battery is working and at full strength. Battery use was much higher in the first year than anticipated. In the second year, the Department will be shifting to a rechargeable battery that is more expensive initially, but is less expensive in the long run. It is also more reliable and operates at a higher level of effectiveness in the field.

A final operational issue concerns the officer's ability to make "real time" assessment of the taser's effects and respond accordingly. Proficiency in making such assessments comes with time and experience in using the device and as officers have used the taser more, they have gained considerable expertise. Field experience has taught that in general (there are exceptions) to obtain the full effect of the device, both darts must hit the subject, the copper wires cannot be damaged or dislodged, and heavy clothes, if not completely penetrated, must be near the subject's body. When these conditions are not met, the expected results may not be obtained. This means that taser officers may need to reapply the device either with a new cartridge or in the stun mode. Field conditions may not always make reapplication possible, but as the year progressed, officers demonstrated the confidence and capacity to reassess the situations they were confronting and redeploy their tasers as necessary.

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