Tag Archives: Taser

Police and the Use of Force

Throughout the past few months, the topics of policing, racial relations, and rules regarding law enforcement use of force have taken center stage in what have often been emotional and contentious debates.  On many occasions, the conversation has been hijacked by opportunists looking to self-promote and media personalities seeking ratings.  I won’t attempt to dive deeply into the issues as they are complex and much too important to attempt to dissect in a simple blog post.  In this piece, I am not making any judgments regarding the most recent occurrences that have been played out in the press.  However, I would like to mention a few things to keep in mind when entering into conversations regarding the recent incidents in Missouri, New York, and Cleveland or even if addressing the issues in a broader sense.  Here are some things I hope everyone will try to remember:

 

  1. When police use force, we can’t assume race or economic is a factor

This has been an unfortunate leap many have taken, partially because some media outlets have linked the two together.  The fact of the matter is that stories dealing with race relations get more attention than some that do not.  Was race a factor in Ferguson, New York, or Cleveland?  I don’t know, but I’m not going to assume so.  As a law enforcement officer, I was involved in several physical altercations and I can honestly say the last thing on my mind was the other person’s skin color.  Call me selfish, but I was much more concerned about doing my job well which, in my mind anyway, included staying alive.

Are there racist cops?  Absolutely.  The same way there are racist computer programmers, airline pilots, and politicians.  Should racism be tolerated?  Of course not.  But, I’m not going to assume race is a factor even if racial tensions exist in particular town or neighborhood.  Police officers are human beings and every officer and incident needs to be evaluated objectively.

  1. Police use of force rules are widely misunderstood

Officers and agents are trained to abide by a use of force model, or continuum, that calls for the officer to escalate force only if necessary.  In most models, an officer’s mere presence is the first step followed by verbal direction, hand control techniques, non-lethal means (pepper spray, Taser, blunt impacts), and lethal force.  An officer or agent can leap over one or more steps if the situation calls for it.  If the officer believes that there is an imminent threat to life (the officer’s or another’s), lethal force may be used.

There are many, many misconceptions about the use of force, but allow me to focus on one.  The use of a firearm is always lethal force.  One of my pet peeves is the Hollywood depictions of an officer shooting an aggressor in the leg or arm as a means to stop him.  This is pure fiction.  Even if you ignore the fact the femoral artery runs through the leg and the brachial artery runs through the arm, bullets don’t often follow a straight path once they enter the body.  Bullets bounce around, they mushroom, and they leave fragments that cause severe damage.  The argument that an officer should have shot a person in a non-lethal way is invalid.  Can you imagine the following interaction between a lawyer and an officer involved in a shooting?

Lawyer:  “Officer, did you intend to kill Mr. Smith.”

Officer:  “No, I shot him in the leg.”

Lawyer:  “So lethal force was not necessary?”

Officer:  “No, that’s why I shot him in the leg.”

Lawyer:  “You shot a bullet into Mr. Smith and didn’t think that it might kill him?”

Officer:  “Right.”

It seems ridiculous because it is just that.  The officer would probably be prosecuted in criminal court and certainly be sued.  Just as ridiculous is the argument that an officer should have used non-lethal means if being confronted aggressively with a knife or other dangerous weapon.  Pepper spray, Tasers, and batons have a very limited range and are sometimes ineffective.  I have personally seen demonstrations where an attacker with a knife can reach an officer standing over 20 feet away before the officer can react appropriately.  These things happen in the blink of an eye and the speed and chaotic nature of assaults should be considered.

One last consideration regarding use of force – EVERY encounter an officer has involves a weapon because the officer is carrying one.  Every time an officer goes to the ground and has to wrestle a suspect, the suspect’s hand is only inches away from a gun.  All it takes is for an officer to lose consciousness or to be at a severe tactical or physical disadvantage for a suspect to obtain that weapon.

http://www.nij.gov/topics/law-enforcement/officer-safety/use-of-force/Pages/continuum.aspx

 

3.  Video clips and sound bites are not thoughtful analysis

A few months ago a short video clip emerged from a gay rights parade in Pittsburgh.  The clip showed an officer punching a female participant in the parade and gave no other context.  Immediately, some individuals and entities latched on to the clip and claimed it was an example of police brutality.  Several days later, information came out that prior to the officer punching her the woman had attacked a parade protester and then had kicked the officer in the groin when he attempted to take her into custody for the assault.  None of that was shown on the video clip that had gone viral in a matter of hours.  This is an example of why it is so important to reserve judgment before all of the facts are available.

http://www.wtae.com/news/gay-pride-parade-arrestee-pleads-guilty/29274810

 

A Simple Test When Debating This Topic

Whether or not the individual you are talking with believes the police are evil; or that a particular race, socioeconomic group, or ethnicity is to blame; or members of a specific political party are at fault, just ask the person the question:  “All of them?”  If the person responds in the affirmative then you may be wasting your breath, but don’t give up.  Words can be polarizing, but they can also reverse the tide.

Have any thoughts?  Leave a comment!

J.J. Hensley is the author of RESOLVE, which is set against the backdrop of the Pittsburgh Marathon, Measure Twice, Chalk’s Outline, and other works. Hensley is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.

https://hensleybooks.wordpress.com
http://www.hensley-books.com
https://www.facebook.com/hensleybooks
https://www.goodreads.com/JJHensley
Twitter @JJHensleyauthor

Watch for my new book, BOLT ACTION REMEDY, in 2017!

AVAILABLE NOW!

image1Cyprus Keller wants a future.
Jackson Channing has a past.
Robert Chalk has a rifle and a mission.  Kill Cyprus Keller and anyone who gets in his way.

 

An addict is killing Pittsburgh city officials, but Homicide Detective Jackson Channing has his own addiction.

cropped-measure-twice-750-x-1200-jpeg.jpg

Also:

In the Pittsburgh Marathon, more than 18,000 people will participate. 4,500 people will attempt to cover the full 26.2 miles. Over 200 of the participants will quit, realizing it just wasn’t their day. More than 100 will get injured and require medical treatment. One man is going to be murdered.  When Dr. Cyprus Keller lines up to start the race, he knows a man is going to die for one simple reason. He’s going to kill him.

resolve-cover art CL (1)

Finalist – 2014 International Thriller Writers Awards – Best First Novel
Named one of the BEST BOOKS of 2013 by Suspense Magazine!
Top Ten Books of the Year – Authors on the Air

 And look for my short story FOUR DAYS FOREVER in the LEGACY anthology

 

Police Tech: The Atari, The Polaroid, and Grown Men Crying

I’m not old.  I’m not.  I listen to modern rock.  I can operate a smart phone.  I realize Lady Gaga is not Lady Godiva although each has been known to show a lot of skin.  I’ve been alive for 40 years.  I’m not old.

The other night, my wife and I were sitting – and not being old – on the couch, and we were talking about the new camera we recently purchased.  It’s a nice Cannon digital with wonderful features and the latest technological advances.  My wife, looking at the instruction manual, threw out a few photography terms and appeared shocked when I was obviously familiar with terms like “F-Stop” and “aperture”.  I explained that as a police officer and federal agent, I had been trained on basic crime scene forensics and evidence collection and had practiced both of those things in my career.  Of course, I went on to clarify that I had been trained on, and used, an actual 35mm camera which used real film, as well as Polaroid Instant Cameras.  It was at that point, my vision of youthfulness started to come apart at the seams.

Paging Officer Smith… Paging Officer Smith

I became a cop in 1997.  To me, that doesn’t seem that long ago.  Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains are not old bands, right?  That was the end of the grunge era and we were beginning to shed our flannel and ditch hemp bracelets.  The next century was calling.  However, if the next century wanted to reach me it would have to do so through my pager.  But by 1999 I think I had an analog cell phone slightly smaller than what Michael Douglass carried in Wall Street.  The thing was so big, I really didn’t need a handgun on patrol – I could simply throw the giant Nokia at a suspect and impale the perpetrator on the protruding antenna.

So… maybe 1997 was a while ago and perhaps the technology I used in my work has changed a bit.  As a still-not-saying-I’m-old crime fiction writer, I suppose I can’t completely rely on my training and experience when it comes to such matters.  To stay current, I have to do some research and talk to people who are still on the job.

I want to take a moment to explore some of the changes that have occurred in police technology and how they can affect all of us.  The starkest contrast can be seen with equipment when we compare what I witnessed in 1997 compared to what some law enforcement agencies have today.

Let us begin…

The Brick

RADIOS

Today

Look at this nice portable radio.

PORTABLE RADIOS

It’s lightweight, easily held, and I bet the battery life is outstanding.  Attach a little shoulder microphone on it and you could jump out of a car and be in pursuit of a suspect in no time at all.  How adorable.

1997

I had some difficulty finding images of what I used in 1997 (I think mine was the third from the right), but my face lit up when I found one on a website. Then, I really looked at the website name – cryptomuseum.com.  That’s right.  Museum.  As in… old.

radios - old

I distinctly remember getting issued the cumbersome Motorola Saber when I completed my police academy at the end of 1997.  The thing was gigantic and officers had to insert the radio into a docking station located in the patrol car in order to keep the battery charged.  So, each time an officer got out of the car, he or she had to eject the radio and try to holster the bulky brick which was a clumsy, time-consuming process.  I was relieved when I went to the Secret Service in 2000, because I knew I would never see that thing again.  In fact, at the Secret Service academy, they showed my class a Powerpoint presentation with pictures of types of radios that had been used by the agency over the years.  One of the pictures was of the massive Motorola Saber I knew all-too-well and the instructor said, “This is an old model which you will never see.”

Upon graduation from the Secret Service academy, I was once again issued the same old Motorola Saber and used it for several more years.

 Turn the Page, Siri!

NAVIGATION DEVICES

Today

Oh, the choices of the modern-day!

 basic GPS
GPS on laptop

 GPS devices are everywhere and may be installed on a dashboard or even on a police laptop capable of running license plates or checking to see if an individual is wanted.  The GPS can be voice-enabled and guide you right to the front door of a house or business.  You simply input a location and off you go!  Not to mention, it’s nice that GPS is now standard with Smartphones (although I have a hate-hate relationship with Siri).  This is slightly different from what I used on the street.

1997

CC map book

 

Ahhh… note the sharp graphics and the clear display.  No glare issues with this puppy.  This baby came complete with an 5-point font size index that included grid coordinates and it could clearly indicate if you were about to drive into a blue section of the county which meant a body of water.  These were great to use while trying to respond to an emergency at 3 AM.  There is nothing like having to stop your car on the side of the road and reorient yourself because you now realize you are not in the C-7 portion of the map.  I do have to admit the voice features were shaky and not once did it respond to me when I said, “Come on you son of a *%#!@, where is Bumpkin Way?”

 Shocking Advances

NON-LETHAL WEAPONS

Today

“Don’t Tase me bro!”  It has a certain ring to it and we got to hear it repeatedly in 2007 when this happened: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bVa6jn4rpE

These days, Tasers are commonplace in law enforcement.  These devices are electroshock weapons that incapacitate a suspect when dart-like electrodes strike a body and cause muscles to involuntarily contract.  When properly used, they are accurate and effective and they have been linked to a drop in officer injuries.  As with any non-lethal weapons, there are still some risks involved.  However, by using this device on a non-compliant suspect, there is less chance of anyone receiving a permanent injury than if direct contact force is used.

 1997

Other than an ASP extendable baton, we carried a form of pepper spray called Capstun.  Capstun was an effective tool, but had some limitations.  One huge limitation is that a spray is a lot less accurate than say a Taser dart.  If an officer utilizes pepper spray (I’m not talking about the foam version which is another story), whoever is in the surrounding area is likely to be affected.  This can mean innocent bystanders can experience the burning of the eyes and face and officers are likely to get hit with it as well.

In my former police department, one of the requirements to carry Capstun was that you had to be sprayed by it so you would know how your body would respond.  My academy classmates and I were sprayed directly in the eyes and the tear and mucus glands said, “We’ll take it from here!”  I did not find it amusing when the spray hit my face and I still did not find it amusing when I was able to open my eyes 45 minutes later.  Actually, I still don’t find it amusing.

The potential of accidentally being sprayed by another officer and being blinded while armed, was a very real one.  These days, departments still have officers carry pepper spray even if they carry Tasers.  However those agencies had to switch to certain brands like Vexor since some types of spray can be flammable and should not be used in conjunction with anything that gives off electricity – like a Taser.

 

These are just a few of the major tech changes that have occurred in the past (cough) 14 years.   They are changes that many newcomers to law enforcement likely take for granted.  How many of us in our late 30’s ever remember back to the days of going for a run with a portable CD player instead of an iPod?  How many of us ever think, “Wow, I wish I had a camera with me” instead of pulling out our cell phone and simply snapping a picture?

But, you know what?

Now I do run with an iPod.

I do own a Smartphone.

I do listen to modern music and even attend an occasional rock concert (even if I wear an Atari T-shirt and Kangaroo shoes).

Atari

Maybe I’m not old.  Perhaps it’s okay that I still know how to use a Polaroid and can read a map book.  As long as I’m evolving with the technology, I’m not necessarily becoming an antique.  Instead, I’m learning to appreciate our advances while not becoming totally dependent upon them.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to load some Skid Row songs onto my iPod Shuffle.  I’m still a Youth Gone Wild.

 

What are some of your favorite tech advances over the past several years?  Have they changed the way you do your job?

J.J. Hensley is the author of RESOLVE, which is set against the backdrop of the Pittsburgh Marathon, Measure Twice, and other works. Hensley is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.

https://hensleybooks.wordpress.com
http://www.hensley-books.com
https://www.facebook.com/hensleybooks
https://www.goodreads.com/JJHensley
Twitter @JJHensleyauthor

AVAILABLE NOW!

An addict is killing Pittsburgh city officials, but Homicide Detective Jackson Channing has his own addiction.

cropped-measure-twice-750-x-1200-jpeg.jpg

Also:

In the Pittsburgh Marathon, more than 18,000 people will participate. 4,500 people will attempt to cover the full 26.2 miles. Over 200 of the participants will quit, realizing it just wasn’t their day. More than 100 will get injured and require medical treatment. One man is going to be murdered.  When Dr. Cyprus Keller lines up to start the race, he knows a man is going to die for one simple reason. He’s going to kill him.

Resolve

Finalist – 2014 International Thriller Writers Awards – Best First Novel
Named one of the BEST BOOKS of 2013 by Suspense Magazine!
Top Ten Books of the Year – Authors on the Air