Increased police use of TasersTM

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Increased police use of TasersTM

We read an article an article entitled Police seek ways to avoid firing guns in a recent issue of the Mercury News. The article discussed increased use of – and need for – TasersTM and other alternative emergency safety tools. This is of interest to those responsible for your protection, as neither you nor they want to shoot anybody. The TaserTM is an excellent tool, but not generally available within the private sector, so we note with relief that much of the interest in new police emergency safety tools has come about as a result of the increasing failure-to-control rates associated with use of pepper-sprays, or ASRs (Aerosol Subject Restraints), as they are more technically termed.

When we first introduced ASRs at the 1988 conference of the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers, the spray was an alcohol-based misting product that contained one tenth of one percent capsaicin, and had a near-zero failure-to-control rate in the hands of trained users. (We introduced the first official training program for line officers at the 1989 ASLET conference.) The FBI subsequently recommended upping the percentage to one half of one percent capsaicin, noting that this seemed to eliminate some of the rare failures without increasing the recovery time, and that anything more powerful than that caused needless pain. (I recall the term used in conversation was “cruel and unusual punishment.”)

ASRs had a number of advantages over teargas. First, they worked by inflaming the mucosa of the trachea when the mist was inhaled, rather than by causing pain, so they would work on pain-resistant subjects. Second, they would work at very close distances, which was important because most police confrontations start at about four feet (field interrogation distance) and then move closer. Third, because they were dispensed as a mist, it was much easier to hit the target than with the narrow stream typically associated with teargas, and the mist avoided the theoretical potential for eye injuries from the stream.

Although we have not been involved with the sale of ASRs for over a decade, and have had no financial interest in any of them, we have kept a paternal eye on ASRs. Several things have happened. First, manufacturers introduced burst and stream units so that they could be used at greater distances. While confrontations still begin at field interrogation distance and move closer, the dispensers no longer mist, and the products are no longer inhaled.

Since the majority of ASRs are now stream and burst units, there was a move away from alcohol (in which capsaicin is extremely soluble, which aerosols easily, and which converted the oleoresin capsicum to an ester, which some felt seemingly made it more effective) as a misting carrier compared to nonflammable (and non-misting) carriers such as water and methylene chloride. The increased failure-to-control rates associated with burst and stream units induced manufacturers to increase the concentration of capsaicin more and more, with products now commonly having moved (from the original range of one-tenth to one half of one percent) to between a full percent to a percent and a half!

We have therefore seen ASRs go from a near-zero failure-to-control rate to, in some reports, a failure-to-control rate approaching seventy percent! We are not surprised that agencies are looking at new alternatives.

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