When Can A Police Officer Use A Taser?

A lot of people in today’s world are constantly assessing if a police officer has used excessive force or is justified in his or her actions. Perhaps you are curious about what justifies a police officer to use a taser on a suspect? Or maybe you were tasered by the police and are curious if the police officer was authorized to use the force of a taser on you in your given scenario?

Regardless of what brought you here, it is important to understand when a police officer can use a taser. The reason why is so that you can ensure for yourself that you don’t end up on the receiving end of a taser when you find yourself interacting with a police officer!

So, when can a police officer use a taser? A police officer does not have any official rules that they are required to follow absolutely when it comes to using a taser on a suspect. There are, however, general “best practices” that a police officer is expected to generally follow and have also been referenced by the courts in cases where the use of a taser by a police officer was questionable.

The federal courts have traditionally avoided setting absolute rules on whether the use of force is legal or illegal and instead set broad standards that vary widely from state to state. For your own protection, we will go into the details of general guidelines that police are expected to follow and the circumstances that would lead a police officer to utilize a taser in any given situation.

when can a police officer use a taser

Who Determines If A Police Officer Is Using Excessive Force Or Not?

Well, as the taser started growing in usage by police over the years – the controversy and lawsuits and public scrutiny have increased right along with it. Since a cop has no actual laws to follow in regard to using a taser or force, in general, it can be difficult to determine if a cop has used excessive force or not and is generally handled on a case by case basis. This doesn’t generally bode well with community sentiment towards their local police force and that’s why the Police Executive Research Forum took it upon themselves to create the ‘Electronic Control Weapon Guidelines’.

The guidelines outline varying best practices that officers and police agencies should consider when determining how a taser will be used in the field. It also refers to the weapon(s) as Electronic Control Weapons (ECW) which a taser falls under the category of.

You can watch this video to get more details on when a police officer uses force and what a police officer is thinking in regard to subduing a subject:

So, What Are These ‘Guidelines’?

These guidelines state that a police officer should consider a taser as a ‘less-lethal’ weapon, as opposed to non-lethal. This could be to alleviate public concern over the concept of determining a taser as a non-lethal weapon or a deadly weapon. This controversy stems from the 1,000 taser-related deaths that have been reported by Reuter’s.

To continue, the ECW guidelines state that a police officer should consider a taser as a weapon of need and not develop a dependence on the weapon, should consider it as a single, or essentially minor, part and not a primary part of an agencies use of force policy – this would mean a cop isn’t constantly resorting to their taser in every given situation.

Finally, the guidelines state that an officer should receive comprehensive training and that the agency should monitor the cases where a taser is being used. It also says they should even consider the expectations of the community on how the community deems an officer should be using force and if it would be considered excessive or not.

General Events

Police officers are trained to determine if a subject is an immediate threat to society as opposed to a perceived or possible threat. A police officer is authorized to use a taser, and will generally be safe if any lawsuits arise, if the suspect poses an immediate threat on society or if the subject is actively resisting and being non-compliant with the officer’s demands.

If a lawsuit does arise the courts will generally consider certain factors such as how bad the arrestee was injured, if the police officer announced that they were an officer of the law prior to tasing, and if the officer warned the subject that they were going to use a taser. Police officers should also refrain from tasing subdued or handcuffed subjects and compliant or unconscious people. That should go without saying, but hey, we’re talking legal stuff here.

High-Risk Subjects

A lot of taser companies will report that their tasers are safe to use on humans with little to no adverse effects. You can certainly argue that they are safe, from a scientific and medical standpoint. I say this because the voltage and amperage of a police standard issue taser would not, in theory, bring the average, healthy human into levels of cardiac arrest.

Science and medicine aside, we still have reportedly 1,000+ taser-related deaths to consider. Obviously, not every police and criminal interaction is going to be with the average, healthy, adult human. 

This is where the ECW Guidelines set some more advisory remarks in regard to high-risk subjects. These include pregnant women, elderly people, young children, visibly frail people, people in known medical or mental crisis, and even individuals under the influence of drugs and alcohol. 

All these are considered guidelines as the officer can still deem the use of a taser necessary if they believe themselves or the public to be in danger and have exhausted all other alternatives.

Now You know!

At this point, you are well-informed on when can a police officer use a taser. Essentially, it is a safe bet to follow the commands of a police officer if you are stopped by a police officer for any reason. This will keep the officer calm and avoid thinking that you may be a threat to the public.

Remember! Police work is a very high-stress job and they are people too, trying to do their best work. The more we understand how and when they can use a taser in any given situation will allow us, as a society, to live in a more perfect community with our law enforcement.