Dispatched to an attempted suicide call you are confronted with a distraught 16 year old girl. Depressed over a break-up with her boyfriend the 90 pound young lady is holding a kitchen knife to her wrist and making statements that she no longer wants to live. You try to talk her into putting the knife down but in her hysterical state she refuses to listen and begins slashing her wrist. Fortunately for the girl’s family your agency has trained and equipped you with an X26 Taser. With your partner covering you in case the self-mutilation turns to an assault against you, you discharge your Taser. Both probes jet out and find their mark. The child drops the knife as she drops to the floor. Serious injury has been prevented to both the young lady and you as she is able to get the help she needs.

taser.jpgSuch was not always the case in law enforcement. Attempts to help control these types of subjects mentioned in the scenario frequently lead to catastrophe. Officers would attempt to: tackle the suspect which frequently lead to injury for them and the suspect, spray them with chemical irritant sprays that might not work, or shoot impact munitions at them that may cause serious injury.

N.A.S.A. scientist Jack Cover had invented the TASER (Thomas A. Swift Electric Rifle) in the late 1960’s, early 1970’s but few departments had the devices in their armories and generally speaking, only supervisors deployed them. A trainer in a neighboring agency that had them in the 1980’s remembers the original Taser being: classified as a firearm by the BATF, hard to aim because of its design, having limited range (15 feet), and requiring the user to not only press the switch to fire but also to continue to hold the switch down to deliver the electric charge, these original units were not that successful on the street.

M26 and X26 
When entrepreneurs Rick and Tom Smith contacted Jack Cover in the early 1990’s, they worked with the scientist inventor to use compressed Nitrogen as a propellant instead of gunpowder and to extend the range out to 21 feet. After Cover signed over his interest to the Smith brothers in 1993 it would take several more years to develop the Advanced M26 Taser which began shipping in December 1999. 

Design changes included making the Taser more effective by increasing the power output to 26 watts which took the Taser into the NMI (Neuro Muscular Incapacitation) range. The triggering system was changed to an automatic five second cycle with each press of the trigger. An innovative dataport microchip was developed to record deployment data including the time and dates of the most recent 500 deployments to provide unmatched accountability of officers. AFID’s (Anti-Felon identification tags) were included in the cartridge to assist in tracking should the device be misused. The grip shape was changed to a pistol design, including an onboard red dot laser added as an aid to accuracy.

The X26 reduced size and weight by 60% and also introduced Taser’s Shaped Pulse technology which has improved NMI by 5%. An integral white light is now included in the X26 design to improve operations in low or subdued lighting. The T26 dataport is more sophisticated with improved firing data including the exact duration, internal temperature and battery strength of the most recent 1500 deployments.

TASER Training Academy
Taser International understands that tools and technology are but one part of the suspect control equation. Training must properly prepare the street or corrections officer with the skills they’ll need to control violent offenders. The static one day training program that I first underwent with Taser in 2000 has progressed to a dynamic 16 hour program complete with confrontation simulation. According to Taser Senior Master Instructor and Training Advisory Board member Steve Prough, an agency hosting the two day instructor program will have: Taser DVD’s (currently Version 14.2 with Version 15 due around May of 2009) for each student, two Taser training suits, (also called Sim Suits, which allows extensive scenario-based Taser training) training cartridges and related materials shipped to them for the class. The DVD’s are state-of-the-art in terms of delivering training materials include videos of actual street deployments as well as Power Point presentations that can be used to train your home agency. Upon completion of a written and practical exam, instructor certification is good for two years. During that time instructors can give their agency members six hour training sessions to certify them to deploy on the streets with Tasers. According to Master Instructor Prough, Taser International has moved to a web based training program which will allow students to study and test on-line prior to attending the class. This will reduce the program to one day. The one day program with the Taser Master Instructor will be more hands-on than classroom. Considering training budget issues with most agencies, this is certainly beneficial.

Scenario Based Training
The Taser instructor program is designed to be about 50% classroom and 50% scenario based training which includes hands on practical skills training. Firing the Taser against static targets may teach the basics (similar to how a pistol shooter learns marksmanship on the square range in firearms training) but there is so much more that must be taught/learned to properly prepare the student. Taser design and elements of the technology as well as safety issues and medical research are vital to the program. And, use of force law and Excited Delirium (responsible for most of the deaths of suspects in-custody) issues are vital to the program and must be taught in the classroom but decision making, use of force judgment, incorporation of the Taser into an officers force arsenal and much more can and should be taught. Policies and guidelines are recommended to be developed at the end user agency and are not taught by Taser.

Scenario based training introduces a stressor into the equation with students oftentimes experiencing a Sympathetic Nervous System (fight or flight reaction) when confronted by role players that are screaming or attempting to assault them. It is this situation which forces the trainee to deal with the perceptual distortions such as tunnel vision and the loss of dexterity that comes along with fight or flight situations, making Taser deployments as lifelike in training as they are on the street helps to properly prepare officers. With the development of the Taser Training suit and non-conductive training cartridges a padded role player can push the envelope of the student’s comfort zone and make training as real as it can get while enhancing the safe and proper use of deploying Taser devices.

Taser technology has revolutionized suspect control – Taser training has better prepared officers to meet and defeat resisting or violent subjects while de-escalating force. This combination of man and machine has helped win the day allowing officers to go home safely and subjects to be safely brought to justice.

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