Force Science News #9:

Chief Shot in Accidental Discharge…What Can You Learn From The Incident? + More on TASERs

Force Science News

Issue #9, December 27, 2004

 

In This Issue:

 

I. Chief Shot in Accidental Discharge…What Can You Learn From The Incident?

 

II. More on Tasers, Including a Sample Taser Policy

 

III. Gun Issues: Strong Opinion, Weak Facts

 

IV. Miss Any Issues of Force Science News? Go to PoliceOne.com for the new Force Science News Archives.

 

V. Happy New Year From the Force Science Research Center

 

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I. “SOMEBODY’S FINGER PRESSED THAT TRIGGER”

 

It was a quiet Sunday afternoon that Chief Lyle Rusk became a training example.

 

Rusk, a former sheriff’s deputy, is the only full-time officer in Robins, IA, a bedroom community of about 2,000 population near Cedar Rapids. Precisely what happened has yet to be explained by the Linn County Sheriff’s Office, which is investigating the incident. But authorities say that Rusk, 56, was in a room at the station late last month [11/28/04] with one of his 3 part-time patrol personnel, a 59-year-old sergeant. Rusk and the sergeant were “examining” a 9mm semiautomatic pistol. The sergeant, also a former deputy and longtime friend of the chief, was “handling” the gun when it “accidentally discharged,” blasting a round into Rusk’s neck at close range, according to reports.

 

 

In two emotional 911 calls, the sergeant “sounds frantic” and can be heard “praying and talking to Rusk,” reports indicate. The sergeant told the dispatcher that the chief had been accidentally shot.

 

Rusk was airlifted to University Hospitals in Iowa City where he underwent emergency surgery, including a procedure directed at a “destroyed” artery in the back of his neck.

 

His physical condition “tends to fluctuate as expected with this type of injury,” says a prepared statement issued by Rusk’s family a few days ago. “There have been a few obstacles in his path to recovery,” but he is “determined to begin what we know will be a lengthy rehabilitation.” Rumors that he is paralyzed from the neck down were denied. The sergeant, described as “devastated,” remains on paid administrative leave to recover from the shooting.

 

The training lesson to be learned from the official scenario of this case is one of the most basic in firearms control: keep your finger off the trigger of any gun you touch until you have made the decision to shoot. John Metzger, principal firearms instructor at the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy, reinforces:

 

“The No. 1 rule is that all guns are to be treated as if they are loaded until you absolutely, 100 percent without a doubt, can prove that they are empty. A weapon is an inanimate object that doesn’t go off by itself…doesn’t think for itself. It’s a tragedy, but somebody’s finger pressed that trigger.”

 

The latest research on unintentional discharges, as well as new studies of the subject that the Force Science Research Center will soon have underway at Minnesota State University-Mankato, were explained in Transmission #3 of Force Science News (FSN), sent last Oct. 15. How you can easily access past issues of FSN through PoliceOne.com, the Center’s new partner in disseminating law enforcement information, is described later in this newsletter.

 

II. LATEST ON TASERS

 

More on the TASER, supplementing Force Science News Transmission #8 [12/10/04], in which the Force Science Research Center challenges the call by Amnesty International for a moratorium on TASER use pending more research:

 

1. SAMPLE TASER POLICY. During a presentation on the TASER during the Legal Officers Section meeting at the IACP conference this fall, a member of the audience asked about good departmental policies on TASER use. The presenter, Lt. Eric Edwards, legal advisor for Phoenix (AZ) PD, mentioned Las Vegas Metro Police Dept. as having one of the best he has encountered.

 

Among other strengths, the Vegas policy covers TASER use both on the street and in corrections.

 

You may want to compare this policy to your own to see if it includes any important elements you have missed.

 

The policy specifies 3 separate types of TASER application:

 

–spark display, “a non-contact demonstration of [the unit's] ability to discharge electricity”

–drive stun, pain-compliance contact “made by pressing the front of the TASER (cartridge removed) into the body of a subject…and activating” the unit

–probe, firing the cartridge so that “the probes/darts make direct contact with the subject.”

 

The policy states that the device WILL NOT be used in 7 circumstances:

 

–when the officer knows a subject has come in contact with flammable liquids or is in a flammable atmosphere

–when the subject is in a position where a fall may cause substantial injury or death

–punitively, for purposes of coercion, “or in an unjustified manner”

–when a prisoner is handcuffed

–to escort or jab individuals

–to awaken unconscious or intoxicated individuals

–when the subject is visibly pregnant, “unless deadly force is the only other option.”

 

The policy says the device SHOULD NOT be used, unless there are compelling, articulable reasons to do so:

 

–when the subject is operating a motor vehicle

–when the subject is holding a firearm

–when the subject is at the extremes of age or physically disabled

–in a situation where deadly force is clearly justifiable unless another officer is present and capable of providing deadly force to protect the [TASER] officers and/or civilians as necessary.

 

In addition to this core information, the policy covers TASER training and certification, the care and handling of TASER equipment, tactical specifics regarding use in both police and correctional functions, and post-deployment considerations.

 

The Las Vegas policy can be read in full at the website for Americans for Effective Law Enforcement, whose executive director, Wayne Schmidt, was a founder of the IACP’s Legal Officers Section. Go to: www.aele.org and under “Library” click on Legal Officer Conference Papers. Then click on 2004 Conference Papers and scroll down to TASER material.

 

Also at this site you can view Lt. Edwards’s full 47-slide Power Point presentation on the TASER and the various legal considerations associated with it.

 

2. SUBJECT INJURIES DOWN. When FSRC’s executive director, Dr. Bill Lewinski, and National Advisory Board member Bill Everett disputed the need for a TASER moratorium, they explained that overwhelmingly the street experience with this device has been positive. Now the Fargo (ND) PD has weighed in independently with a similar conclusion.

 

Fargo PD reports to the Associated Press that since the device was introduced to the city last March, with each of the department’s 75 patrol officers carrying a TASER on his or her duty belt, claims and reports of suspects injured “have fallen by about half compared with the same period in 2003.” Fargo police have tased 22 people so far this year. There have been no associated deaths or significant injuries.

 

“Most of the time,” says an emergency room doctor, subjects are “agitated, violent and pretty dangerous, whether it’s from alcohol or meth or whatever.”

 

Although relevant statistics have not yet been compiled, Capt. Jeff Williams told Force Science News that he believes injuries to officers are also down, because “they are not going hands-on as much.”

 

In at least 2 cases, Williams says, TASER use has made it unnecessary for officers to use deadly force. One of these involved a suspect, high on meth, who was advancing on an officer with a steak knife. That officer deployed his TASER while his partner was prepared to deliver deadly force if needed. With one 5-second TASER zap, the threat ended.

 

In the other instance, the offender was a dog. The mutt had bitten a 9-year-old boy, then charged police. Had the TASER not been effective, the animal would have been shot.

 

TASER’s track record in Fargo has not been perfect, however. A lieutenant estimated to a local newspaper reporter that officers on his night shift “have had only 60 to 70 percent success when deploying the device.” During one hairy domestic dispute, an officer tried to use his TASER to help subdue a drunk and violent combatant with a knife. The weapon failed to fire, according to an internal report. When the officer tried to switch cartridges, the TASER discharged, “almost hitting him in the hand.” Overall, though, says Fargo Capt. Todd Osmundson: “The TASER has been an excellent addition to our toolbox.”

 

Williams claims that in a neighboring community, where TASERS have been available for more than a year, resistance to officers has dropped noticeably. Just knowing that the devices are available seems to promote an attitude adjustment among offenders.

 

On Fargo PD, the TASER is ranked as an intermediate use-of-force/response-to-resistance option.

 

3. SPREADING THE WORD. One mission of the FSRC is to better educate the public and the mainstream media with credible information about law enforcement issues. Our recent TASER report helped in that regard.

 

A news release explaining the Center’s position on the TASER moratorium controversy was cited or reproduced in full in a wide range of media, including CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, Forbes, Bloomberg Financial Reports, the Minneapolis Globe…even Canada’s Globe & Mail newspaper.

 

One publication, the Santa Cruz (CA) Sentinel, reported the Center’s stance in an article that also described a recent encounter between local police and a “distraught” man who stole a delicatessen knife and grabbed a 7-year-old girl as a hostage in what became an hour-plus standoff in a downtown market.

 

Officers first fired 40mm sponge rounds at the offender, who was threatening suicide. These “only distracted” him. Eventually he was brought down with a TASER, borrowed from a neighboring agency.

 

Since then Santa Cruz PD and the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office have begun a gradual introduction of TASERS to their personnel.

 

III. GUN ISSUES: STRONG OPINIONS, WEAK FACTS.

Policy questions related to gun ownership and proposals for gun control are among the most contentious issues in American politics. But people and organizations that hold strong opinions either way on these issues are essentially flying blind.

 

That’s the conclusion of the National Research Council, a not-for-profit institution that provides science and technology advice under a congressional charter. “Current research and data on firearms and violent crime,” says the Council after an exhaustive review, “are too weak to support strong conclusions about the effects of various measures to prevent and control gun violence.” For example, the Council asserts:

 

–There is no credible evidence that “right-to-carry” laws, currently enacted in 34 states to allow qualified adults to carry concealed handguns, either decrease or increase violent crime.

 

–There is “almost no evidence” that violence-prevention programs intended to steer children away from guns have had any effects on their behavior, knowledge or attitudes regarding firearms.

 

–Research has found “associations” between gun availability and suicide with guns, but it does not show whether such associations reveal genuine patterns of cause and effect.

 

“Should regulations restrict who may possess firearms? Should there be restrictions on the number or types of guns that can be purchased? Should safety locks be required? These and many related policy questions cannot be answered definitively because of large gaps in the existing science base,” says Charles Wellford, a professor in the criminology and criminal justice department at the University of Maryland-College Park, who chaired the committee that wrote the report of the Council’s study.

 

“Available scientific evidence on how policing interventions and tougher sentencing policies affect firearms violence is both limited and mixed,” Wellford adds. However, based on “some results” that he describes as “encouraging,” he urges that further exploration be made of “police efforts to target guns and young offenders, and sentencing enhancements for gun offenses.”

 

He also stresses the importance of continuing to develop the federal Center for Disease Control’s National Violent Death Reporting System and the National Incident-Based Reporting System that has been initiated by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Data from these systems can be “vital” to advancing research on violence and firearms and alleviating the “immense” limitations that currently exist in addressing important social policy issues.

 

The full 300+-page report on this study, titled Firearms and Violence: a Critical Review, is available at http://www.nap.edu/books/0309091241/html/ and can be read free online. News release summaries can be found at http://national-academies.org. Click on “Data on Firearms and Violence Too Weak to Settle Policy Disputes.”

 

IV. HANDY ARCHIVES. If you’re looking for back issues of Force Science News, they’re all easily accessible now at www.policeone.com. PoliceOne.com, the popular law enforcement website, has joined FSN as a strategic partner in disseminating up-to-the-minute research reports and informed commentary from the Force Science Research Center at MSU-Mankato.

 

New FSN transmissions are posted on PoliceOne soon after they are sent to our worldwide subscriber base, and previous transmissions are archived there indefinitely. On the PoliceOne home page, just click on the Force Science Research Center logo on the right side of the PoliceOne.com homepage to connect with a listing of back issues.

 

You may note that a Force Science National Advisory Board member, Charles Remsberg, is now a regular columnist for PoliceOne. Remsberg, co-founder of the original Street Survival Seminar, is author of the popular Street Survival series of books on patrol tactics and officer safety.

 

V. LITTLE THINGS COUNT

 

As we head toward New Year’s, our annual period of self-assessment and pledges of personal improvement, keep in mind the power of little changes and their cumulative ability to produce big results.

 

Like a lot of people, you may promise yourself to do better regarding physical fitness and weight control, for example. Here’s a tip from the recent book, “Small Change: It’s the Little Things in Life that Make a BIG Difference!”

 

If you replace a soft drink with water at just one meal a day (lunch, say), you will drink about 40 more gallons of water per year, while not drinking 40 gallons of carbonated sugar. You will save as much as $500 and up to 50,000 calories.

 

Whatever your dreams for the new year, good luck…and our best wishes for a healthy, prosperous and safe 2005!

 

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(c) 2004: Force Science Research Center, www.forcescience.org. Reprints allowed by request. For reprint clearance, please e-mail: updates@forcescience.org. FORCE SCIENCE is a registered trademark of The Force Science Research Center, a non-profit organization based at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

© 2017 Force Science Institute Ltd.