In a new study that carries important caveats, a research team of criminologists has found that agencies with the most permissive CEW policies–allowing deployment against even passive resisters–have significantly lower rates of fatal officer-involved shootings than agencies with highly restrictive policies.
“As the researchers themselves point out, this study does not necessarily prove that a minimally restrictive policy causes shootings to diminish,” cautions Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Institute, which did not participate in the study. “It just establishes an interesting statistical correlation. An agency should not necessarily alter its policy on conducted electrical weapons solely because of this study.”
The study, conducted by four criminal justice faculty members led by Dr. Frank Ferdik of the University of West Florida, examined data on fatal police shootings and on more than 12,100 TASER CEW uses from “a nationally representative sample” of 259 American municipal PDs and full-service SOs.
Analyzing department policies and actual field applications, the researchers found that “a policy or practice that allowed the use of a [CEW] in probe, drive, or either mode on passive resisters” (i.e., the least restrictive deployment) results in “substantially more” uses of the electrical weapon and “is substantially and significantly associated with decreases in the number of fatal police shootings.”
Specifically, compared with departments that permitted use only against “combative” subjects–the most restrictive policy–the decreases in fatal OIS rates ranged from 61% to 66%, the group found.
That outcome might be expected, given that CEWs are “intended to reduce citizen deaths resulting from police use of force,” Ferdik writes.
However, the findings included some results that raise additional questions.
For example, Ferdik reports, “We found…that a policy or practice that allowed the use of [CEWs]…on actively resistive suspects (tensing/pulling away) is significantly associated with increases in the number of fatal police shootings,” compared to departments with combative-only restrictions.
In other words, “only the least restrictive policy appears to be associated with reductions in fatal shootings.”
In addition, the researchers found that departments that required annual retraining in the use of CEWs experienced “significant reductions” in the rate of OISs. But agencies that required “more hours of initial [CEW] training” had “significant increases in fatal shootings.”
“More rigorous” research is needed to explain these “counterintuitive” findings, the researchers say. If more investigation provides clarification and confirms that “less restrictive policies reduce police fatal shootings,” then a “reasonable recommendation would be to loosen existing restrictions on [CEW] use during use-of-force encounters,” Ferdik writes.
The study, “The Influence of Agency Policies on Conducted Energy Device Use and Police Use of Lethal Force,” is published in Police Quarterly. A free abstract, plus a link for ordering a paid, full report of the results, is available by clicking here.
Our thanks to Dr. Mark Kroll, adjunct professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and a frequent defense expert for law enforcement, and to Atty. Michael Brave, member/manager of LAAW International LLC and national/international litigation counsel to TASER International, Inc., for helping to facilitate this report and the one that follows below.