Training and Why We Don’t Have Tasers

I was going to post this after the first shooting, but I held back.  After the shooting in Saratoga, I think this needs to be said.  I think it needs to be said for the deputies and for the community.  It’s a question that has been asked by the public, but never sufficiently answered.

We have had one, two separate incidents where deputies were put in a situation where they were forced to pull their weapons and defend themselves in an ultimately fatal manner.  I am not questioning the justification of those shootings.  The deputies did what they had to do and I stand by that.

But the deputies have been deprived of an alternative less-lethal option – Tasers.  People have asked why there are no Tasers carried by Sheriff’s deputies.  The answers are complicated, well, not really, but multi-faceted would be a better word.  It started with a death in the jails many years ago, before the Sheriff was even Sheriff.  The Sheriff determined she would not have Tasers after that.  But let’s be clear on this point — if you were the loved one of the of the people who were shot over the past weeks, would you not prefer the odds of a less-lethal option like a taser be available?  No, there are no guarantees, but generally speaking when Tasers are used properly, the risks are reduced to being a danger primarily to those with heart problems or on drugs.   And I know many don’t stop to consider this aspect, but the effect on a law enforcement officer having to take a life is no inconsequential matter on their part and the emotional impact to them and their families are as long-lasting and can be as painful as they are to the families who suffered the loss.

There is a reason I underlined the words “used properly” above.  Because that is where we run into the real problems with getting the less-lethal option of Tasers into the hands of deputies.  Tasers themselves cost money.  Maintenance costs money.  Training is significant in that it must be enough to overcome what could be 25 years of muscle memory training to reach for a gun.  It’s a perishable skill, so training is required to be repeated over the years.  We’ve discussed in the past how the Sheriff views the value-to-expense ratio of training to the office. And then you have that ugly phrase “policy paper.”  A policy on escalation of force and appropriate use of tasers must be created and maintained.  The Sheriff hates putting policy to paper, it narrows her escape options on what to say and who to blame if something goes wrong.  The costs of equipping and training deputies to ensure a BART-like situation did not occur wouldn’t be something to shrug at.  But I suspect if virtually every other law enforcement agency in the Bay Area can afford it, surely one of the largest sheriff’s departments in the state could handle the challenge of moving forward with “new” technology.

I think we have all seen the news, both locally and nationally, indicating the increase of violence and of those who may be no more than temporarily mentally incapacitated.  There is nothing wrong with giving law enforcement as many options as possible to deal with the situation to make sure everyone makes it to bed at night.  There is always the possibility that the outcome of the two instances would have been the same, but the families were never given the option of finding out if it could have been different by a Sheriff’s indifference to modern police tactics that help save lives in very difficult situations on the street that take split second decision-making on the part of her deputies.

As a taxpayer, I would rather the Sheriff stop trying to undermine the budget we give her in some bizarre effort to pretend she’s a cost cutting CEO and spend it to better protect our community.  She has a budget because she told us that is what she needs and the community has agreed that is an amount we find acceptable.  So provide us with a trained and equipped law enforcement entity that meets that expense.


3 thoughts on “Training and Why We Don’t Have Tasers

  1. Deadly force is on the far end of the continuum, and I would hope that most people involved in the criminal justice system wouldn’t second guess an officer that made the decision to use that level of force. I would hope…..How about assessing the rest of the continuum with regards to its effectiveness in controlling an actively resisting/ combative suspect, and the costs that the public and agency pay as a result. Most Deputies that actually do the job, end up in fights with combative suspects who are invariably drunk, high, mentally unstable, or some combination thereof. Occasionally none of those factors come into play and the suspect is just very motivated not to be taken into custody.

    Obviously by the time you are involved in the process of using a reasonable amount of force to overcome resistance you are already beyond your command presence and verbal judo. I personally have never had the pleasure of being in a fight with a suspect where fill units have decided to use OC or a baton, and not been directly hit while in the fracas. Best case scenario is your partner only partially blinds you with the OC or only gives you a few lumps with their baton. Maybe they have the Asp, which generally bends on the first or second strike, rendering it useless. Maybe you work on the one shift where the one supervisor has the only enforcement K9 in the agency (the second one should be coming on-line soon, but the current one is getting ready to retire). That would be awesome, but unfortunately, that K9 has almost as many Deputy bites as suspect bites. Baton strikes and K9 bites always look good when filmed for the nightly news. So most Deputies are forced to go hands on with someone that is drunk, high, mentally ill, generally younger than the Deputy and motivated not to be taken into custody. Needles to say they feel very little pain, which prolongs the struggle.

    How many Deputies end up injured as a direct result of this scenario? How many Deputies end up being retired as a result of these injuries? What does it cost the agency when so many Deputies are out on 4850? How much of an investment is lost if they are retired? If it costs the agency then it costs the public. It would be nice if there was a level of force that generally tends to effectively overcome resistance without having the Deputies involved going hands-on and getting hurt. But hey, employees are the Sheriff’s most expendable asset. That’s how bullet two of the Mission Statements Core Values should read.

    The Sheriff and her highly trained and experienced command staff demonstrate that on an everyday basis. Most of them have shunned doing actual police work where they might come across a resisting suspect. They are more in favor of more demanding experiences like Copana, School Resource, Traffic, PIO, and P&T. Those are included in “patrol time experience” for the purposes of promotion, and you don’t have to get dirty making an arrest. Yay! If they did get stuck out in patrol, maybe they hid in their patrol car with the doors locked while they watched another Deputy fight a suspect (just sayin,’ that person should be terminated not promoted).

    That’s why they have no conceptualization of what it’s like to be an actual Deputy, doing actual Deputy work; which in turn gives them no experience getting hurt. Aside from everyday administrative injuries like the delusions caused by the reduced oxygen on the fourth floor, and the abrasions caused by insufficient lubrication after the boss throws one of her legendary tantrums. As a result of this myopic perspective, everyone that gets hurt is faking. Based on their training and experience, limited as that may be, the job is pretty safe and the Deputies don’t need more tools than the ones that have been around since the early eighties when they started their careers. Aside from one misguided incident that I can think of in the recent past, when’s the last time that the Sheriff or one of her command staff showed up at the hospital when a Deputy was injured in the line of duty doing actual police work with insufficient tools? Fakers…..


  2. I,too, had the same thoughts as Casey Thomas after the first officer involved shooting in Burbank last month. There is a danger of looking like I am second guessing the use of force in both these cases. I am not. I have no reason to believe that any of the deputies involved in in these two incidents did anything differently than I would have done if faced with the same situation and the same options. My thoughts are with them as they deal with the legal and emotional process they are enduring. That being said, after the first shooting I saw comments from the public, both the family of the deceased and posted comments, questioned why a Taser was not used. As law enforcement officers we know that a Taser may not have been appropriate in a fast developing situation and the only alternative might have been lethal force. Nonetheless the community is owed an explanation from the Sheriff as to why Tasers we’re not even an option. If it is because of expense, fear of misuse or any other reason, the stand up and say so. A leader confident in her decisions and policies would do just that. Leaving your staff waving in the wind and subject to public distrust and criticism is typical of Laurie Smith.

    These two recent incidents should at least be cause for a review of those policies. Expense is not a good excuse coming from someone willing to spend $2,000,000 on an unneeded and foolish dog kennel that defies all accepted practices for police service dogs. Expense is not a good excuse from someone who is exploring the idea of purchasing another helicopter, this one at the cost of $4,000,000. Why so expensive? She wants one with heavy lift capability to remove marijuana from inaccessible grow sites. Doesn’t the State already provide that service. Yes they do but their helicopters aren’t personalized like hers. In addition, bigger helicopters have more room for “guests.” If you know what I mean.


  3. Tasers are an effective tool when used properly. Some of us remember having them in the Jails and the reason they were removed. Times have changed and so has training on the use of less than lethal weapons. Time for the Sheriff to reconsider the Department’s stand on them.


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