Letter on Tasers from Ray Samuels, Chief of Police of Newark
The Newark Police Department has been plagued in recent years by an increasing number of assaults on police officers. These assaults are often extremely violent and have resulted in officer injuries. The department is constantly looking for ways to reduce the risk of injury to the officers and the community they protect. Advances in less lethal technology are of significant interest to the department. In the recent past we have made a variety of less lethal devices available to officers including the flexible baton (bean bag) and rapid fire OC distribution weapons. Electro-muscular disruption (EMD) technology is also of interest to the department. The purpose of this document is to share with you my thoughts related to the use of conducted energy devices by the Newark Police Department.
Before I do that, I believe it is appropriate to provide you with some information related to my professional and educational background. I have been a police officer for more than 32 years working in three different Bay Area agencies. I have worked in many uniformed and non-uniformed assignments as an officer, supervisor and manager; however my primary focus prior to my appointment to police chief was in the area of police misconduct/internal affairs investigations. I have an undergraduate degree from Golden Gate University and a graduate degree from San Diego State University. I am a graduate of the state of California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training Command College, the FBI National Academy, and the Senior Management Institute for Police, Boston, MA. Specific to less-lethal technology, I have twice attended symposiums on the topic sponsored by the United States Department of Justice. Most recently, I attended a symposium in Arlington, Virginia on April 4-5, 2005, which focused exclusively on conducted energy devices.
My interest in conducted energy devices has allowed me to assist other agencies refine their policies related to their use before the model policies drafted by the Police Executive Research Forum and the International Association of Chiefs of Police were available. That said, I want to make it clear that it is not my intention to directly or indirectly criticize or influence the policy of other law enforcement agencies. My jurisdiction is limited to the city of Newark, CA. Police Department. I fully understand that any use of force by law enforcement involves risk. It is the responsibility of the chief of police to manage that risk, and in doing so, the balance can result in differing views amongst reasonable people. I strive to stay abreast of all of the information available on the subject and anxiously await the latest independent scientific research into EMD technology. That said, I am steadfast in my refusal to modify my position on conducted energy devices primarily because the risk of unintended death is too high. I say primarily, because there are a host of conditions that breed a multitude of other concerns. For the purposes of this writing, I will assume these other concerns are mitigated with a fully developed use of force policy coupled with aggressive monitoring of all force applications by police employees.
For a conducted energy device to be useful, the threshold for use cannot be on a par with the threshold for the use of deadly force. And, in fact, it is almost universally agreed that these devices represent an unacceptable substitute for deadly force when deadly force is necessary and justified. Yet, the risk of death when a conducted energy device is applied properly and in accordance with the aforementioned model policies is too high. Some proponents argue that the risk of death from a conducted energy device is no higher than the risk associated with all other uses of force by the police. While I have not conducted research to support or deny this assertion, I am aware that the collection of use of force data is not uniform throughout the United States. In fact, many agencies only collect data in cases involving significant applications of force, if at all. Therefore, I suggest that this statement cannot be supported on a national level and I am unaware of any reports comparing the death rate in all police use of force cases to that of conducted energy devices.
In conclusion, I view the evolution of conducted energy devices and their use much the same as I view the evolution of the carotid restraint. Both had been around for a long period of time and both saw a dramatic upsurge in use as the number of violent assaults on officers increased. With increased use, law enforcement personnel and medical practitioners recognized a substantially higher risk of death, particularly when used on persons that have a predisposition to cardiac arrhythmias arising from alcohol or drug use, pre-existing heart disease or other genetic factors. It is interesting that more than a decade ago, most law enforcement agencies outlawed the use of the carotid restraint or placed it use on a level equivalent to the application of deadly force.