For decades, law enforcement has struggled with the proper, legal application of non-lethal weapons. From rubber bullets to chemical mace, technology has come a long way, but there is still no substitute for proper training. Especially when you're talking about a couple thousand volts electrifying a human body.

Don't Tase Me, Bro

Well-publicized incidents of taser use and abuse have prompted a wave of public concern, and a few cities and college campuses have chosen to redefine policies or to give up tasers completely. Yet, just like the trend toward local police militarization, many departments are going in the opposite direction and pouring more money into tasers.

Any designated driver can tell you that it ain’t easy getting a drunk friend into the backseat of a car. And police deal with worse than that every day – but are they using tasers when necessary to protect themselves or the public, or using it just because it makes the job easier?

We researched incidents where police used tasers in metro Detroit and found widespread misuse. In one incident, officers stunned a man who was already sitting in the back of a patrol car for nothing more than refusing to hand over his cell phone.

Setting Standards for Stun Guns

We released our findings in Standards for Stun Guns, a report outlining specific incidents of taser misuse in Michigan and recommending improved guidelines for law enforcement.

Behind the troubling incidents, we found a pattern of many local police departments letting down their officers and the public in two key ways:

  • Failing to properly train officers
  • Failing to limit taser use to situations involving aggressive or armed suspects

There are clear guidelines for when it's okay to use a taser, from policies created by municipalities to the newsletter of the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, yet many officers remain uninformed.

Happily, technology and tools that help police end conflicts with aggressive, armed individuals are constantly improving. Now we just need to make sure that officers who control these tools have thoughtful, informed training and guidelines that improve along with their tools.

By Jason Torrente, Communications Fellow