To a police officer approaching a potential suspect, everyone is armed. “Innocent until proven guilty,” only applies to courtrooms. The police officer who approaches everyone thinking that they are unarmed and friendly doesn’t survive very long. There is evil in the world and a perpetrator’s appearance is no indication of their intentions.
For that reason, every time a police officer gets close to an unknown subject, he is thinking they’re armed; and he’s thinking about twenty-one feet.
Twenty-one feet is the distance his training tells him an assailant can move during the time it takes for an officer to recognize and respond to a hostile attack. It doesn’t matter if the attack is with a club, a knife or hands and fists.
If those twenty-one feet are traversed before the officer can bring a weapon into play, he will be fighting for his life with his bare hands.
Police are trained to fight with their hands, but from the start it’s an unfair fight. If the officer wins, he is to use the minimum amount of force necessary and immediately cease all aggression when the subject is under control.
The suspect is under no such restraints. He will use all the force and weapons within his conrol and will not stop until the officer is unconscious or dead.
That’s why police officers never fight fair. Whatever the subject uses, the officer will move at least one step higher in the force hierarchy. If the subject appears to have nothing but his hands, and there is really no way to know for sure, the officer will use his less than lethal weapons of mace, baton or taser.
If the subject has a knife or a club, the officer will use the taser or move up to a lethal weapon. If the subject has a gun, then it’s a fair fight with the officer probably having the edge due to training.
Now, let’s objectively go over the options. When the officer first sees that perceived threat, he/she has several options if outside those twenty-one feet. Mace is one of them, but the same instructor who drilled that twenty-one feet danger area into his head also repeated over and over that while mace causes a burning sensation on exposed skin and eyes, it doesn’t stop anyone.
They can tough it out. They can still advance, they can still fight, and they can still slash with a knife. The aftereffects of mace will dissipate in about fifteen minutes or even sooner if washed off.
The second option is the Asp: a collapsible baton. It can be effective in eventually achieving pain compliance when correctly applied. Its liability lies in its short reach and the fact that virtually all police training with impact weapons forbids strikes to the head.
The head is about the only area where an impact will actually stop an assailant in his tracks. Otherwise, it can require repeated strikes while a subject’s is still trying to get past the baton or rip it out of the officer’s grasp. A baton can split the skin or break bones.
A firearm is always available to the officer; however, it’s considered the weapon of last resort. Almost any officer has the ability to stop someone crossing those twenty-one feet using a sidearm. There are those who suggest the officer should use the firearm to wound or disarm an attacker. It doesn’t work like that.
All firearms training is geared to neutralizing the threat; shoot to kill. Training includes everything from a single shot to center mass (the bulk of the torso) to a triple-tap: two in the chest and one to the head – just in case the subject is wearing body armor.
Attempting to shoot a gun or knife out of someone’s hand, or shooting to disable, means shooting at a much smaller target while it’s moving. There is negligible chance of success. Within those twenty-one feet, there’s no time for a redo. Failure may mean the bad guy goes home that night and the officer’s family goes to a fancy funeral in the next few days.
Now we come to the taser. Due to the nature of this discussion, the taser was saved until last. Some might think it strange, but the length of a taser’s standard leads is twenty-one feet. As anyone who has experienced a taser’s power can attest, it will stop them.
There is no toughing it out. There is no advancing. There is no fighting. There is only a meeting with the ground after the muscles lock up. The impact with the ground is the highest probability of injury from a taser’s use.
There are no aftereffects from the electrical shock. The suspect’s only reminder that it ever happened will be two small puncture marks where the leads stuck when it was fired.
Pulling the trigger of a taser unleashes a storm of electrical power for five seconds. It is possibly the longest five seconds anyone can experience. It hurts. Although there can be some residual confusion the first time it’s experienced, a person is capable of though and controlled movement as soon as the power goes off.
If one wants to use that first movement to continue an attack, another pull of the trigger adds another five seconds of excruciating pain. This can be repeated as needed until acts of aggression cease. That will be very soon.
Now to address the question: Are the police violating the law when tasering an unarmed citizen? First, we’ve established that there is no such thing as an unarmed person from the police officer’s point of view.
To assume such a thing is to invite personal injury or death. Police officers survive by the rule of: I’d rather be judged by twelve than carried by six.
Second, are they violating the law when tasering a citizen? Have you heard of a single instance of a police officer selecting someone at random and lighting them up with a taser? The officer is there for a reason. He uses the taser for a reason.
The primary reason is that it stops the possibility of the officer being injured within those twenty-one feet; something mace won’t do. The secondary reason is a taser causes much less injury to a suspect than a nightstick or a gun.
So is the officer justified in using a taser on someone who simply refused to get out of a car after being placed under arrest? The option is to try to physically pry them out. That requires the officer placing himself within reach of a person who may have a knife or a gun.
It places him in a position to be overpowered by someone physically stronger than he is. And it places him in a position where someone smaller and weaker might grab his gun through dumb luck. Think for just a moment about you trying to control someone you don’t know, someone who may be armed, and someone who may or may not have martial arts skills.
If everything goes right, you get the cuffs on them and you get to go home that night. If it goes wrong . . . you’re dead. It’s rather a stark contrast. What are you going to use?
No, the officer is not breaking the law when he uses a tazer on an unarmed citizen. He’s using the best tool at his disposal to control an individual of unknown quantity while causing the least amount of injury possible, and allowing the officer to maintain his personal safety. That’s not against the law.