(Nov. 1, 2013) Would, as the bard said, a rose by any other name smell as sweet? Or, rather, would a Taser by another name hurt less?
Probably not, although if Tybalt had given Mercutio a good zap instead of fatally stabbing him, “Romeo and Juliet” probably would’ve had a much different ending.
Nevertheless, the Ocean City Police Department gained approval from City Council this week to revise a number of its general orders, most notably its use of force policy, to reflect new language and legal circumstances surrounding Tasers.
Although the less-lethal armaments carried by resort officers are popularly known as “Tasers,” the term is actually taken from the brand name of the company who makes them, Taser International. The standard industry term for them, up until now, has been Electronic Control Devices, or ECDs.
According to police, Taser International has now changed the nomenclature from ECD to the more ominous-sounding Conducted Electrical Weapon, or CEW.
“In talking with Taser International, I was important that we keep our terminology the same for the purposes of future litigation,” said OCPD Capt. Greg Guiton. “Hopefully we never have to go down that path, but we wanted to be using the same terminology in case Taser would ever need to assist us to show that our policy is consistent [with their standards].”
Additionally, the revised orders now specifically state that “fleeing shall now be the sole justification for the deployment of a CEW” and that “severity of the offense and other circumstances will be considered before officers use a CEW on a fleeing suspect.”
This references the court precedent set last year in the case known as Reid v. Maryland, which found that fleeing from police officers was not grounds for use of a CEW in and of itself, since flight did not necessarily mandate arrest unless the suspect was, in fact, violent.
“They determined in that case that if you used the Taser on a fleeing suspect, you would need probable cause for arrest,” Guiton said. “We wanted to make sure that that was outlined in the use of force policy.”
“It’s something we’ve been teaching all along, since we’ve had the weapons,” Guiton added. “Fortunately, the way our use of force policy uses terminology, we also define ‘active aggression’ and ‘active resistance’ [as conditions for CEW use], both of which would indicate an arrest was going to be made and would indicate probable cause for use. Legally, this is very sound.”
Since Tasers were first introduced in October, 2011, the OCPD has closely tracked and monitored their use. Every incident in which an officer draws his Taser is recorded and is now reported monthly to the city’s Police Commission.
For the most part, the department has found that the threat of Tasers is a more effective deterrent than their actual use. For instance, in seven of the eight incidents reported for this past September, the officers gained compliance from the suspect simply by taking the weapon out of its holster. Only one incident actually required a charge to be delivered.
Further, the department has submitted that Tasers have drastically reduced injuries. Roughly half of all incidents in which a Taser is used would result in injury to the officer or suspect if a Taser was otherwise unavailable and the officer had to physically grapple with and restrain a resistive person, according to comparative data from before and after the weapons’ introduction.