He then asked, “But would you do that to your classmates?” and I said, “No, I was just checking out my options.”
He said, “I thought so.”
Before I talk about my ride on the lightning, I want to say that I believe that the Taser electronic control device (or ECD) has saved hundreds if not thousands of lives*. I’m spelling it Taser, and referring to the past-tense of the act of exposure to it as “Tased;” the proper way to write the brand name of this device is “TASER,” as it is an acronym. Its inventor, a NASA scientist named Jack Cover (which itself sounds like a legend, or cover-name, like Jack Flack, Joanna Dark, Johnny Fedora or Cate Archer), named the device after his childhood hero, Tom Swift; the “Thomas A. Swift Electric Rifle,” therefore, is TASER.
Until the Taser, officers had a range of choices which were pretty limited in terms of escalating force. The “use of force continuum” that governs which force officers use begins with professional presence and, in ascending order, moves to verbal commands, “soft hands,” (which includes touching and gently guiding or pushing), “hard hands” (punching, come-alongs and other holds), less-lethal techniques (OC spray, batons, beanbag-shotgun etc) and deadly force.
Before the Taser, there were very few choices after an officer reached “hard hands” (that’s, “fists and feet” to you) and discovered it to be ineffective in subduing someone, but the officer also found himself in a situation in which the use firearms were not justified. As an example, someone doesn’t want to be arrested, and fights you, and while he doesn’t have a deadly weapon, you can’t take him. Can you shoot him? Probably not, at least not as a default option.
What cops had for these situations – which arise far more often than you’d imagine – was OC spray, chemical mace and clubs, or, as cops like to refer to them, ‘batons’. Clubs were ineffectual and they carried with them not just the potential but the likelihood of serious, debilitating injury**. Also, when caught on video, cops clubbing people looks exactly like what it sounds like. See generally King, Rodney G, and more recently, Collins, Andrew J
When I got Tased earlier this year as part of a security certification, I decided that the Taser was the worst and longest five seconds of my life. I felt every one of the 19 electric pulses which coursed through my body each second, and determined that, should anyone ever point a Taser at me, I’d either do exactly what they said (if it was a police officer) or shoot them until I ran out of bullets, reload and prepare to shoot again (if it was anyone else).
The Taser is, in the words of one deputy sheriff I know, “the worst thing in the world.” Another cop, Dan, echoes this sentiment: “In the first second you don’t know what hit you. In the next second, you realize that this is pretty much the worst thing in the world. In the third second you think you’re going to die. In the fourth second, you are positive you’re going to die and you’re waiting to do it. In the fifth second you’re hoping you’re going to die. Then it stops. And you want it to never, ever, ever happen again.”
I have first-hand knowledge that, having experienced it, one never again will do anything to get Tased – or rather, one will do almost anything to avoid it. I’ve heard of prisoners who said they stopped running and put their hands up because, in their words, “I heard you say, ‘Taser, Taser Taser’ an I don’t wanna get hit with that shit.” I have personally witnessed an exchange between a cop serving an arrest warrant and the suspect:
Cop (pleasantly enough): “OK, man, we’ve got a warrant for your arrest, so go ahead and turn around and put your hands behind your back.”
Suspect: “Man, I ain’t goin’ nowhere wit choo.”
Cop (Changing rapidly the expression on his face from pleasant to hard stare): “You are about to be Tased.”
Suspect (turning around with great speed and placing his hands behind his back, palms out): “Okay, man, I’m goin’ wit choo.”
The cop, I should point out, was not armed with a Taser at the moment. It was next to me, inside the console in the middle of the front seat of the car in which we had arrived. I was looking at the Taser with great trepidation and was, I admit, scared to touch the fuckin’ thing, so awful was the memory or what it did to me.
So the Taser day begins with Officer Little describing to us some basics of the device, and other euphemisms for “The Worst Thing In The World” – words like “exposure” and “cycle” and “deployment” for, “Shooting-you-in-the-back-from-across-the-room-with- two-barbed-darts-that-will-deliver-thousands-of-volts-of- electricity-into-your-body.”
We are exposed to the latest safety and sales propaganda from the Taser corporation, an Arizona firm whose employees, according to the videos we watch as part of the 194-slide PowerPoint presentation, are routinely exposed to the Taser.
In a nutshell: the Taser uses a nitrogen cartridge to explosively launch two sharp, barbed probes towards the target; to each probe is attached a thin conductive lead; the Taser itself generates a very high voltage, very low amperage charge. As the two probes nestle themselves into the body of the suspect (we heard about 100 times that we can target the back and legs, or anywhere from the sternum down, making all efforts not to target genitalia, never intentionally targeting above the sternum), the electrical circuit is completed through the body of the suspect. Should one of the lead wires break, or should a dart miss its target, an officer can move up to the suspect and apply the Taser directly against his skin – this action, called a “drive-stun” – completes the circuit between the probe and the Taser.
A word about voltages: whenever you hear about the Taser in the news, the reporter always says at some point, ‘Delivering 50,000 volts of electricity.” Balderdash. Sloppy journalism. The 50,000 number comes from the fact that the Taser itself generates that much as a peak voltage measurement. However,
“The high peak arcing voltage of 50,000 volts only occurs when the arc is required to jump a gap such as between the electrodes on the end of the [Taser], or when a probe lodges in loose clothing and must jump the gap to the body. When traveling across the human body, the peak voltage drops to … 1200 V for the X26 ECD. Reports that the TASER ECDs send 50,000 volts through the body are inaccurate”.
-Instructor notes, Taser Training PowerPoint, version 17, slide 61
The Taser X26, the model my agency carries, generates a peak voltage across the body of 1200 Volts, and an average current of less than 0.004 amps. To put this in more readily understandable terms, volts shock but amps kill. Household current of 120V (220 in Europe) kills because it delivers up to 30 amps of current. Have a look at this chart from the Centers for Disease Control:
Each pulse of the Taser delivers 0.07 joules; this a mere shadow of the 150-400 joules per pulse delivered by a cardiac defibrillator. I’m not saying that this is not awful, but I am saying that, according to the research provided by Taser, it’s not deadly. Not that the Taser corporation has no vested interest in this result, but I do believe that there have been enough lawsuits in the past decade or so to generally suport Taser’s claims. In 2008, when Taser lost its first suit – the family of a California man, high on methamphetamine, who died after being exposed to three Taser cycles, sued the city – it was the first successful judgment against the company. It had been found not responsible in nearly 100 similar suits. To date, no further judgments against Taser seem to have occured.
We’d been told by Dave that Officer Little liked to get the exposures done in the morning and then do the classroom portion. That’s nice – no one wants to sit in a classroom all day, then go out to lunch, knowing that he’s going to get a snootful of volts; it’s much better, if you ask me, to lemme ride the lightning and then sit through a boring series of lectures and an ass-puckering test (another little surprise: if we fail the written exam we get to fail the academy).
At about 9.30 am, we started to look at the running order we’d put on the wall. Cadet Genesee was selected to go first (in all these things, OC spray, driving, red man, etc, everyone wants to go first, to get it over with), because he had gone last with OC spray. The rest of us were selected by lottery, with someone pulling names from a hat. I was to go tenth.
When you do Taser, everyone wears safety glasses, and you shoot the darts at the target’s back – there are more muscle groups there (all the better to shock you with), and fewer opportunities to get someone in a sensitive area. But that is, of course, still possible.
Take Instructor Nixon and his “Owl’s Nest” story.
“They’re doing Taser and they ask me, do I want to take a ride, and I’m like. ‘Yeah, I’ll ride the lightning.’ So they get me ready and hit me and I’m like, okay, this is really awful, this is really terrible, all the stuff you normally say. But I also wondered, ‘Why does me ass hurt so much?’. And I’m lying on the ground afterwards and all the people are standing around me and they’re giving me these looks of exquisite pain, like ‘Oooooooh, gross.’ And that’s when they tell me that they shot me right, ah, in the, uh, owl’s nest. Directly in my asshole. A barbed dart. Hurt for, like, a week.”
The way this works, two people stand next to you, one on either side. Each supports you under an armpit, being sure not to stress your rotator cuff. When you get hit with the darts, the shock – forgive me, the “neuro muscular incapacitation,” or NMI) starts pulsing through the body, causing the motor and sensory nervous systems to lock up like a bank vault. All your muscles jam up, and your body goes stiff as a mannequin. At that moment, the spotters’ job is to lower you, rapidly, so that you’re face down on the mat.
There are a couple of reasons for this. First, it’s more simulative of the real-world application – after all, most of the time when we deploy our Taser, the suspect is not lying down, but standing up – either with his fists in your face or his back towards you, hot-footing it outta there. Second, it demonstrates to us spotters in no uncertain terms that we can touch someone who is in the process of being Tased without any shock to ourselves – unless (and this is a big ‘unless’) we touch the person’s body at a point that is between the two probe contact points. Then, I’m told, it is unpleasant.
In fact, Taser suggests that the suspect whould be handcuffed during the time that the person is receiving the NMI.
Each of us was required to be a spotter at least once; each of us was required to break the lead wires and remove at least one probe, using bio-hazard procedures.
Now, last time I got hit with the Taser, I was given the alligator clips. We were tased as a group. I now learn that this practice is against Taser policy. To Tase a group, you use an alligator clip on one person’s clothing, then have the subjects link arms, and place the other alligator clip on the clothing of the person at the end of the chain. At that point, you are getting the 50,000 volts, as the Taser is generating enough to arc across clothing and bodies. Understand, the 50,000 volts is not coursing through your body, but is the voltage generated by the device.
It’s absolutely the worst.
I was expecting that the probes being closer together would focus and localize the awfulness, and be, for lack of a better term, “better” than having it with the clips. The problem is that I was very scared of the barbed hooks – they look like straight fishhooks. Wouldn’t they hurt? Wouldn’t they hurt to remove?
“Well,” said Dan, “I’ve never had a single complaint from someone having the probes removed.”
“Yeah,” I said, “but isn’t that because they’ve just been Tased, and they’re willing to go through anything to not get Tased again?”
The entire Tase lifecycle is this: The taser is pointed; the X26 has a built-in laser sight. As you point it you shout, “Taser, Taser Taser!”. This has two important effects. First, the person you’re targeting might reconsider and comply. Second, other officers in the immediate vicinity will hear that you’re deploying a Taser, and not a firearm, so will be less likely to draw their guns and shoot in what has become known as “sympathetic firing”: I shot because he shot.
The trigger is pulled; the sound is like a concussive, “PAFF!” and the little plastic blast doors fly off. Confetti, each piece marked with the serial number of the Taser cartridge (each cartridge is traced to a specific user), is ejected along with the probes, which hit the target at, and at an angle of 8° below, where the laser dot was shown on the subject.
Earlier Tasers, alas, suffered from inefficiencies; the probes carried both the charge necessary to penetrate clothing and air between the clothing, and the skin, as well as that required to cause NMI. More recent models have incorporated a two-pulse approach. The first, Arc, helps the probes strike home through those barriers. The second, Stim, provides the, ah, stimulation. Since incorporating this approach, Taser says that its incapacitating effect has increased by 5%, while the power consumption has been reduced by 20% and its overall size by 60%. Doesn’t that Just make you all warm and cozy, thinking that Taser engineers are up late, thinking of ways to improve the product?
Once the probes have hit home and the pulsing has begun, the target is treated to 95 little lightning rides – 19 per second for five seconds. The user can shorten any exposure by flipping the switch to “Safe” during any cycle***. Don’t worry about the battery life – with its extended power management cartridge, the Taser can give, oh, say, a few hundred 5-second cycles like this before needing a fill-up.
After the ride, further rides can be had for the asking – provided the leads haven’t broken. All one must do is pull the trigger again to provide five more seconds of shock. Should the suspect determine that, in fact, he’d like to comply now, thanks, he would be handcuffed, and then you’d break the wires (there is no better sound in the world, if you’re on the ground with probes in your back). You’d then don latex gloves, reach down and firmly grasp the end of the probe and pull straight up in one fast motion, then swab the area with alcohol wipe and, if necessary, use a Band-Aid. Believe it or not, many people don’t bleed at all. I bled like a stuck pig.
Genesee got hit with the Taser and said, “AW, SHIT” and was lowered to the ground. I think he farted****. Walters went next, and didn’t lock up or go to the ground. One of the leads, it turned out, had hit something in Walters’ pocket and not connected, so Little runs up behind him and shoves the X26 against Walters’ leg. “BWAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!” shouted Walters, looking and sounding for all the world like a man whose hand just got caught in a meat grinder.
Burns, another older cadet – he’s 43 – is the meekest, mildest-mannered guy, with a somewhat high-pitched voice that he tell me often gets him called, ‘Ma’am’ when he goes to drive-through windows. He got hit and said – and this is verbatim – “Fuck! fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck, Oh! Damn, shiyiiiiit, fuck God damn shit!”
After watching several cadets getting hit, and the way they locked up, Glock turned ashen and walked out of the room. In the Army, Glock had been climbing a tower when some handhold gave way, and he fell and broke his back. The sight of the cadets seizing up sent Glock into an understandable condition of worry, and he announced he wouldn’t take a ride. So, suddenly, it was my turn.
Now as I say, I’ve done this before. I know how much it will suck – but more important, I know that it ends after five seconds, and I alone among the cadets in the room know just how long that five seconds will feel like. Like a condemned man I put on the goggles and walked to the center of the room. The trick was that Little would ask you the time, and as you answered he’d hit you. Either that or he’d ask you to count backwards from “five” and he’d hit you around “5” or “4”. SO when he asked me the time I just said, “10.”
BAM! I was right! This was more tolerable than the clips. Don’t get me wrong, I was yelling like a baby and would have begged for mercy had I been able to form words (How Burns did it I will never know). By the second second, they’d got me to halfway down onto the mat, by the third I was face down. I was feeling the pulses and thinking (oh, yes, time goes very very slowly) and made two conscious decisions. First, that I should relax, because it wouldn’t get better by fighting. Second, the I was going to try and … move something. Anything.
I manage to tap my feet, left-right-left. Tappy-tap. Then it was over. The first words out of my mouth: “Break the leads.” I was speaking calmly, you understand, so as not to provoke Little into thinking I was being disrespectful in any way of him, the Taser, the class, the ride, the academy in general or anything else that would possible cause him to pull that trigger again – or to somehow have the Taser malfunction and give me another ride.
I will say this: the probes did not hurt, either going in or being removed. Not a bit. Nor did the impact points hurt later. After the experience I can honestly say that if you have a choice of being Tased using the clips or the probes, take the probes. Every time.
Towards the end, Sig Winchester went, and was very funny – he was the only one whose voice echoed the pulses – sort of like humming to yourself while beating on your chest will produce rhythmic interruptions of your voice.
Then, at the last posisble second, Glock decided to take the ride. Little, without telling Glock, was kind to him – he shot Glock in the back of the left leg, causing him a terrible ride but one that was far less immobilizing than the full NMI experience.
The rest of the day was spent taking the thing apart, putting it back together, firing it, learning its parts and taking the test. I got 100% on the test, and was not one of the three cadets who shocked themselves (Little had predicted this: “One of you will shock himself today – it’s a statistical certainty.”). I won’t say their names. Okay, Lindbergh, GI Jane and Lt America. I’ve said too much already.
You can watch the video of the entire class getting TASED. Set to Electric Avenue. I’m seventh – the first one after the camera angle changes.
* Opposing views are, of course, prevalent; see, for example and generally, the blog, Stop Taser Torture. As with any tool, it can be abused by those lacking moral or ethical courage and proper training. As with guns, hammers, slotted spoons and any other weapon, it is not the device per se but rather the user who often creates problems.
** See the Report of the Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department for information about those, which included 20 stitches, five inside his mouth, and which his negligence claim against the city of Los Angeles claimed included “11 skull fractures, permanent brain damage, broken [bones and teeth], kidney damage [and] emotional and physical trauma” (“Post Arrest Events”, Commission Report, p. 34). By the way, For those who insist that King was high on PCP at the time of the incident, it’s worth noting that blood and urine specimens taken from King five hours after the incident showed BAC of 0.075 (which would indicate legal intoxication of 0.08% BAC at the time of the incident) and traces (26ng/ml) of marijuana, but no indication of PCP or any other illegal drug (“Post Arrest Events”, Commission Report, p. 34).) Prior to the 56 strikes with batons, King had been Tased, however after the initial cycle, apparently the leads had broken, and the Taser was no longer producing compliance, hence the application of batons.
***I am referring to the law enforcement model here, the TASER X26, and not the TASER X26C, or civilian, model. That thing is fuckin awful: the ride is 15 seconds, and can be “stacked” by the user. This means that, if I pull the trigger three times on a civilian model, the Taser X26C will deliver forty-five seconds of Tasing. The basic idea is that unlike cops, civilians are encouraged to use their Taser to escape an attacker. The C model is intended to be stacked, then dropped. While your attacker has his own personal hell, you get outta Dodge, right quick-like. Having taken two, five-second rides in my life I can say that I find it inconceivable to take a 10-second ride, let alone a 15-second ride, let alone a 45 second one. Then again, if the attacker had stayed home and watched Family Guy he probably would have had a 0-second ride.
**** Dan says that one female cadet had an orgasm during her Taser ride.