Unintended: A Theory of Taser / Weapon Confusion

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Editor’s Note: Studying performance errors in policing can be difficult for researchers who cannot ethically replicate the dangerous conditions present in lethal force encounters. To overcome this limitation, researchers routinely consider evidence derived from other professions and industries (e.g., aerospace (Airbus), aeronautics (NASA), pharmaceutical, occupational safety and health, medical, industrial engineering, and transportation).

Recent events have prompted readers to request references for slip/capture error research. For this reason, I added a reference list at the end of this article that begins with two articles addressing Taser/Weapon errors (“Taser/Weapon Confusion”). The remaining list includes citations to research explaining performance errors generally and slip/capture errors specifically.

How does an officer draw and fire their pistol when it is clear they intended to draw and discharge their Taser?

When an officer first learns to draw their pistol, it may require intense focus to defeat the holster’s retention features, secure a proper grip, maintain a safe orientation, and efficiently draw and capture a sight picture. However, with sufficient practice, this process will be performed with little cognitive effort or awareness. This ability to draw a weapon or perform any skilled task without the need for focused attention or “cognitive control” is referred to as “automaticity.”

For police, automaticity frees up their “cognitive load” for more effective decision-making and allows them to remain externally focused on threat assessments, changing environmental conditions, and communication efforts. Unfortunately, the repetitive performance that leads to automaticity can also play a role in a common performance error known as a “capture error.”

A “capture error” can occur when an infrequent action like drawing a Taser is non-consciously substituted by a similar, more familiar, and more practiced action—like drawing a firearm. Research has shown that people are particularly susceptible to this type of error when they are occupied by other mental processes. For police, these processes might involve time-compressed threat assessments, the need for immediate action, or simultaneous efforts to communicate—including verbal warnings and de-escalation attempts.

These are Resilient Errors

Capture errors fall under the category of performance errors known as “slips.” Slips occur when someone has the right intention but fails in its execution (and this failure cannot be attributed to some chance intervention).

Human factors researchers have observed that slip errors can have severe consequences. They are difficult to reduce—even with training, visual cues, or increased motivation. Experts and novices are susceptible to slip errors. They are not the result of a lack of knowledge or expertise but instead occur from a temporary failure of working memory.

Efforts to reduce errors by inserting visual cues, weight disparities, and audible warnings can be affected by attentional limitations. Humans perceive what they pay attention to, and during critical incidents, their attention may be involuntarily pulled to the most “salient” stimulus in the environment. Often, that is the person, object, or action perceived to pose the greatest threat.

When a person is intently paying attention to what they perceive as a threat, it is expected that they will not perceive the other stimulus around them. That includes factors that we would expect someone to notice under calmer circumstances—factors like the weight, shape, and color of a Taser as compared to a full-size firearm.

To further complicate things, human performance researchers have highlighted other processes that should be considered when looking to understand why the physical characteristics of a Taser may not always be sufficient to distinguish it from a pistol. Neuroscientist Daniel Wolpert has explained that once our brain predicts an action’s sensory consequences, we “subtract them off” and are not aware of them. Similarly, Dr. Richard Schmidt noted that once the brain concludes (even erroneously) that correct action is being executed, it can disregard feedback that might otherwise indicate you’ve selected the wrong tool or weapon. 

It’s Not Just the Police: Broad Professional Interest in Performance Errors

The police are not unique in their susceptibility to performance errors. Nearly every industry involving the interaction of humans with machines has studied performance and decision-making errors. In addition to policing, the medical, engineering, and aeronautical professions continue to study and build into their products and processes ways to prevent, reduce, or mitigate the consequences of errors.

The World Health Organization produced a manual that includes a chapter dedicated to the classification and prevention of common psychomotor medical errors. In response to the estimated 150,000 annual deaths caused by medical errors, doctors, pharmacists, and nurses are trained to recognize error-inducing factors and to implement error-reducing processes.

NASA has a substantial human performance section focused on engineering design and human performance training to minimize performance errors in the space program. 

The aerospace industry, including Airbus, has extensively focused on airplane design and control configuration to avoid lapses, slips, and captures—three of the most common psychomotor performance errors.1

Those who would argue that science does not support the theory of slip errors or capture errors will need to contend with aerospace (Airbus), aeronautics (NASA), pharmaceutical, occupational safety and health, medical, industrial engineering, and transportation industries.

Conclusion: Mitigating Taser / Weapon Confusion

Although extensive research has gone into understanding human error, it will never be enough to prevent them entirely. Humans will always make errors. Even so, efforts to prevent errors, interrupt errors, or mitigate the consequences of errors—including engineering and product design solutions—are often studied and implemented.

Training the mental and physical processes involved in a task, including training to maintain optimal arousal states, may also mitigate the frequency of error during critical incidents, even if they are not reasonably expected to eliminate the error.

When looking at Taser / Weapon confusion cases, it bears mentioning that Taser/ Weapon confusion is an extremely low frequency, high consequence event. Still, it has been reported that these cases have occurred 18 times in the U.S. since 2001. We can observe in each of these cases that the officers drew the Taser with their dominant hand (the same hand an officer would routinely use to draw their firearm). This was apparently the case even when the officers conducted a cross draw.

To mitigate the risk of Taser / Weapon confusion (drawing a firearm when the officer intends to draw a Taser), police professionals and Taser manufacturer Axon have recommended that officers carry the Taser on their nondominant side. This position may prompt officers to draw and deploy the Taser with motor movements that are distinct from those required to draw and fire their pistols.

It has been suggested that the color of the Taser and the weight of the Taser can mitigate the risk of weapon confusion. However, as mentioned above, there is evidence that these factors may be insufficient to overcome the capture errors, the attentional limitations, and the suppressive cognitive processes that can occur during time-compressed critical incidents.

Although we are unaware of a documented Taser / Weapon confusion incident that involved drawing the Taser with the nondominant hand, we recognize that even this mitigation process (or vest-carrier holster option) may come with its own performance and safety trade-offs.

As the police profession considers ways to mitigate the risk of Taser / Weapon confusion, the most promising solutions may be found in a holistic approach.

A better understanding of human performance under stress, more effective training, and modified equipment design and functionality are solutions extensively studied and applied in the medical and aviation industries. Policing should continue to draw on the lessons learned from these and other professions hoping to manage human error.

Bonus: Examples of Common Capture Errors

As previously mentioned, a capture error occurs when a less frequently occurring behavior is automatically substituted by a more practiced, familiar behavior. The following examples are provided for readers hoping to better understand the concept of capture errors.

Repeatedly reaching for a gear shift, ignition, or turn signal in a new or rented car only to find these controls are no longer where you expected to find them.

Even before the widespread use of Tasers, many police agencies trained and equipped officers to avoid psychomotor performance errors. Departments warned, trained, and required officers to carry the same make and model handgun when on-duty and off-duty to prevent errors in the operation of the holster and weapon during stressful situations.  Officers who change holsters are cautioned to practice with the new holster to reduce the likelihood of slipping back into the previous retention release and draw performance patterns. If this slip error occurs during a critical incident, officers may be unable to draw from their new holster effectively. 

After transitioning from the older power brakes to the new automatic brakes, police officers in the 80s were involved in an increased number of crashes during high-speed driving because they reverted to their more familiar braking habits under stress. In doing so, the officers effectively defeated the automatic brakes’ operation and lost control of their vehicles. This error occurred despite the officers knowing the new brakes required a different manipulation.

Driving on the left side of the road in a foreign country requires additional focused attention for U.S. drivers. In anticipation of performance and decision errors, drivers new to left-side driving are warned that emergency corrective action that might work in the U.S. may be precisely the opposite of what is effective when left-side driving.  During distracted or emergency circumstances involving immediate response, the most frequently practiced and executed performance can overtake (“capture”) the newer, less practiced, and more appropriate solution.

In the medical world, capture error was identified and extensively studied due to nurses incorrectly programming a new infusion pump model. Because the sequence of steps was similar but not identical to the older, more familiar pump, errors occurred. These errors were more pronounced when the nurse was distracted, in a hurry, or otherwise preoccupied.

Dr. James Reason includes the following examples of capture errors: after moving a clock from one wall in a room to another wall, automatically and repeatedly looking at the old location; continually looking in the old location after moving the location of dishes in a kitchen or tools in workroom; automatically reaching for your keys in the pocket you most routinely store them. 

Dr. Richard Schmidt, 40 years in the psychology department at UCLA and chief author of Motor learning and Performance, frequently lectured on the concepts of slip and capture errors. He gave examples and testified in court to how these errors could result in automobile accidents involving pedal misapplication errors. Pedal misapplication errors occur when a driver steps on the accelerator when intending to apply the brakes or simultaneously steps on the accelerator and the brake. A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that accidents involving pedal error occur approximately 16,000 times a year in the United States.  Without time or attentional resources to critically analyze the problem, drivers may unintentionally push on the gas pedal (even slam on the pedal!), believing it to be the brake.

Additional References

Articles on TASER/Firearm Error

  1. Blake, D. (2021). 3 Recommendations to mitigate TASER/firearm ‘capture’ errors. Police1, The Science of Training. https://www.police1.com/police-training/articles/3-recommendations-to-mitigate-taserfirearm-capture-errors-8BR8tWo27y59znpP/
  2. Martin, J. A. (2016, September). Applied human error theory: A police TASER-confusion shooting case study. In Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting (Vol. 60, No. 1, pp. 475-479). Sage CA: Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications. https://doi.org/10.1177/1541931213601108           

Relevant Human Error Research

  1. Ament, M. G. A. (2011). The role of goal relevance in the occurrence of systematic slip errors in routine procedural tasks. (Doctoral dissertation, UCL (University College London)).
  2. Anu, V., Walia, G., Hu, W., Carver, J. C., & Bradshaw, G. (2016, October). Using a cognitive psychology perspective on errors to improve requirements quality: An empirical investigation. In 2016 IEEE 27th International Symposium on Software Reliability Engineering (ISSRE).
  3. Back, J., Blandford, A., & Curzon, P. (2007, August). Slip errors and cue salience. In Proceedings of the 14th European conference on Cognitive ergonomics: invent! explore! (pp. 221-224).
  4. Chapanis, A. (1999). The Chapanis chronicles : 50 years of human factors research, education and design. Aegean.
  5. Dekker, S. (2014). The field guide to understanding ‘human error’ (Third edition. ed.). Ashgate.
  6. Evans, R. B. (1990). William James, “The Principles of Psychology,” and Experimental Psychology. The American Journal of Psychology, 103(4), 433-447. https://doi.org/10.2307/1423317
  7. Frese, M., & Altmann, A. (1989). The treatment of errors in learning and training. Developing skills with information technology65.
  8. Hofmann, D. A., & Frese, M. (2011). Errors, error taxonomies, error prevention, and error management: Laying the groundwork for discussing errors in organizations. In Errors in organizations (pp. 18-60). Routledge.
  9. Holland, K., Sun, S., Gackle, M., Goldring, C., & Osmar, K. (2019). A qualitative analysis of human error during the DIBH procedure. Journal of medical imaging and radiation sciences50(3), 369-377.e361..
  10. Holland, K., Sun, S., Gackle, M., Goldring, C., & Osmar, K. (2019). A Qualitative Analysis of Human Error within the DIBH Procedure. Journal of Medical Imaging and Radiation Sciences50(2), S3.
  11. Lewis, C., & Norman, D. A. (1995). Designing for error. In Readings in Human–Computer Interaction (pp. 686-697). Morgan Kaufmann.
  12. Lopes, M. E. R. F., & Forster, C. H. Q. (2013). Application of human error theories for the process improvement of Requirements Engineering. Information Sciences250, 142-161.
  13. Mambrey, V., Vu-Eickmann, P., Angerer, P., & Loerbroks, A. (2021). Associations between Psychosocial Working Conditions and Quality of Care (ie, Slips and Lapses, and Perceived Social Interactions with Patients)—A Cross-Sectional Study among Medical Assistants. International journal of environmental research and public health18(18), 9693.
  14. Martin, J. A. (2016). Applied Human Error Theory:A Police Taser-Confusion Shooting Case Study. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting, 60(1), 475-479. https://doi.org/10.1177/1541931213601108
  15. Najar, S. A., & Sanjram, P. K. (2021). Driving errors and gaze behavior during in-vehicle object and spatial distractions. Journal of Transportation Safety & Security13(4), 381-413.
  16. Norman, D. A. (1981). Categorization of action slips. Psychological review88(1), 1.
  17. Reason, J.T. (1990). Human Error. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139062367
  18. Sellen, A. J., & Norman, D. A. (1992). The psychology of slips. In Experimental slips and human error (pp. 317-339). Springer, Boston, MA.
  19. Sutcliffe, A., Galliers, J., & Minocha, S. (1999, June). Human errors and system requirements. In Proceedings IEEE International Symposium on Requirements Engineering (Cat. No. PR00188) (pp. 23-30). IEEE.
  20. Taylor, P.L. (2019). Human error in police involved shootings. State University of New York at Albany.
  21. Taylor, P. L. (2019). Beyond false positives: a typology of police shooting errors. Criminology & Public Policy18(4), 807-822.
  22. Vickers, J. N. (2007). Perception, cognition, and decision training : the quiet eye in action. Human Kinetics.
  23. Wickens, C. D., Hollands, J. G., Banbury, S., & Parasuraman, R. (2015). Engineering Psychology and Human Performance (4 ed.). Psychology Press. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315665177
  1. See Human Error. James Reason. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (1990). []
74 Responses
  1. Great article, still I think it leaves out some important questions that the public should be asking as well as every agency.

    How many hours of stress inoculation scenario training did this officer have in the last year?

    How many hours of tactical shooting-not just qualifications on paper during broad daylight with no stress- did this officer have in the last year?

    How many hours of transitioning back-and-forth between handgun and Taser, while under stress did this officer have?

    How many hours of defensive tactics with full contact has this officer had in the last year ?

    I bet my entire savings account not enough hours for it to be on automatic motor skill to begin with, let alone to be performed under adrenaline when she was hijacked psychologically and physiologically by a violent encounter that she isn’t used to.

    A typical high school athlete gets to practice their sports skills a couple hours each night four or five nights a week. Meaning a high school athlete gets more hours per week in their sports skills than a police officer gets per year in skills that could mean life or death. That’s a huge problem and I think agencies are failing to train their officers for these encounters and then they get legally charged and thrown under the bus.

    1. Chris


      All excellent points and I couldn’t agree any more with what you said. From the perspective of an officer who is responsible for their departments training, I will tell you this. There isn’t a police department in this country who wouldn’t want to give their officers as much training as you suggest. Now for the elephant in the room… $$. Training costs money, and lots of it. And unfortunately, law enforcement agencies operate with the budget given to them by their respective municipal governments. So until city/township/county/state governments start to value police training, and appropriating sufficient funds to be able to accomplish training, I’m afraid we’ll be having more and more of these conversations. But believe, the points you have made are an EXCELLENT starting point for some real conversations to be had.

      1. Chris, I know the battle all too well. I spent a few years as an Academy instructor. Fortunately at the time the department was well funded, but the headaches were battling people up the chain of command that did not understand training at all. I did make a significant amount of progress though increasing physical fitness, defensive tactics and scenario training for officers that wanted it. When I was medically retired though nobody carry the torch… you have to really battle and navigate relationships and put a lot of sweat equity in to improve training at an agency even if you do have a budget. The way things are now, as much as the public wants everybody to act like Navy SEALs, ninjas, psychologists and lawyers when making split second decisions, it’s crazy that they are defunding police rather than quadruple in the training budget.

      2. Elliott Phelps

        As a retired COP I have found the only argument city councils will listen to is the cost associated with the training. Therefore, any Chief must structure the argument based on what it will cost in civil litigation to the city if you don’t train. Getting the city attorney involved by educating the council about the millions of dollars a civil judgment can carry helps remove the constant allegations by council that the request for training is an attempt by the PD to increase budget and staff.

    2. Mike

      To play devils advocate to your response question, “How many hours of stress inoculation did the officer have?”

      It wasn’t too long ago several agencies were getting chastised for “too much” stress induced training which pits an Officer with a “over-heightened” state of mind for every call for service, even during the most mundane calls. It was for this reason Street Survival or Warrior courses were renamed.

      Damned if you do, damned if you dont.

      1. RPG156

        Its like… Failure is not an option…. its a requirement. They don’t want cops to win. Politicians would rather bury a hundred cops than one citizen. Hamstrung is an exaggerated underestimate.

      2. Mike, yup everybody shies away from anything they consider too tactical or too aggressive or too warrior. But the reality is the better trained you are, the more fit you are, the more confident in fighting you are, and the more confident you are in tactical shooting – The more calm you are on the streets, the less force you use, you’re better at de-escalation, and you make less mistakes under pressure.

        It’s super simple and if you look at science you can prove all of this. 13 or 14 years ago I was doing experiments with police officers during scenario training with heart rate monitors. I had a full day of scenarios and ran officers of different levels of experience through them, noting who also had combat experience, how busy were the stations they worked, and who did additional training on their own. I also ran my SWAT team through it, people who get to lift every day, shoot regularly, do scenario training regularly, and do operations often. Well my hypothesis was correct, it’s not just common sense its science:

      3. Mike, I tried to respond but it doesn’t seem to have posted. I hope it does not post and then this is a repeat. I think what you are referring to was more about feelings of anything related to what they consider “warrior training”. The completely false notion that the more aggressively you train, the more aggressive you will be on the street. Common sense as well as science proves that as a flat out lie and false narrative.

        The more fit you are, the more confident and fighting and tactical shooting you are, and the more experience you have with stress inoculation – The more calm you are on the street, the better you are at de-escalation, you use less force, and you make fewer errors.

        I was doing research with officers and Polar heart rate company over 13 years ago and proved this with a few different unofficial studies. Just in case this repeats I won’t say everything I did before but officers that have more experience in more violent districts, officers that have combat experience, officers that have more training, they perform better period. I put various officers of different levels of experience as well as my full-time SWAT team through a full day of the exact same scenarios. See here (https://www.polar.com/files/pdf/Utilization_of_Heart_Rate_Monitors_During_Operational_Training.pdf)

        Click on my name to go to my ministry page and find out more information or to get my contact, as well there are a few podcasts I’ve been interviewed on where I speak about some of these matters.

    3. Rick

      Well said. Agencies never allocate enough money or time to training. Some officers moan and complain about having to go to training and do anything to avoid it. Like the old saying goes; We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we sink to the level of our training.

    4. Lawrence Stone

      You raise questions that seriously need to be addressed. Officers should go through semi-annual “pressure” training where they respond to various scenarios in rapid and random order. Scenarios where the officer has split seconds to ascertain to use either gun or taser.

    5. Brandon

      Its an interesting point and I agree. I only wonder with implicit bias training, first aid, verbal judo, bloodborne pathogens, evoc (Driving), etc etc etc etc I don’t know when I would get the opportunity to actually do my job if we truly trained to appropriate levels to deal with all of these levels of incidents.

      On top of that, even in the rare instance we get a mass amount of range or defensive tactics, use of force; training has to be tapered to the lowest common denominator and truly valuable reps are either not available due to time constraints or a modification to make sure the full group can complete the training.

      Factor in staffing shortages and significant injuries that occur everytime this extensive training occurs and you have another real big issue.

      I’m not looking to make excuses for someone not to maintain proficiency or for the industry to improve but instead just acknowledging there are a mass amount of issues that further complicate getting the training needed for the industry.

    6. I propose we immediately withdraw all Tasers that were produced in the the shape of a pistol. Even when brightly colored, they can be mistaken for a firearm by both the public, and officers. Regardless of who is holding one.

      This can lead to either an officer, or citizen firing a firearm either by mistake, or firing a handgun at someone armed with a Taser.

      Require all Tasers be in the shape of a flashlight. Even allowing for “muscle memory mistakes”, it would be highly unlikely to have an officer to mistake one for the other.

      In my career, I never heard anyone shout, “STOP, or I will turn on my flashlight”.

    7. Gary P. Greenbush

      I would like to see a required courxe for our high schools. I think our kids should learn the truth about interaction with LEO

    1. Andy Woolford

      As a pilot and theoretical knowledge instructor, I am very familiar with the concepts discussed in this article. Indeed, capture errors and cognitive slips have been responsible for aircraft accidents and as the article points out, the aircraft manufacturers spend a lot of time designing the man-machine interface to either prevent or interrupt the error before it is executed.

      The SHELL model is a safety analysis tool which describes the relationship between Software, Hardware, Environment and Liveware (humans) in respect to aviation. An excellent review is available on wikipedia here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/SHELL_model

      It only describes the interfaces involving Liveware with the other components in the model. The interface between Liveware-Hardware seems particularly relevant to this discussion and includes:

      …designing cockpit displays and controls to match the sensory, information processing and movement characteristics of human users while facilitating action sequencing, minimising workload (through location/layout) and including safeguards for incorrect/inadvertent operation.

      Mismatches at the L-H interface may occur through:
      * poorly designed equipment
      * inappropriate or missing operational material
      * badly located or coded instruments and control devices
      * warning systems that fail in alerting, informational or guidance functions in abnormal situations etc.

      However, Liveware-Environment (stress) and Liveware-Liveware (communication) are equally important factors in reducing the likelihood of errors. For this reason procedural requirements such as multi-crew operations including call-outs and cross-checks substantially reduce the possibility of errors. Of course every interface has its limitations and these are discussed in the SHELL model.

      However given that capture errors and slips are possibly the most common and predictable of all human errors, it would seem to me that a lot more could be done by Police authorities to help prevent these occurrences than concentrating their efforts only on the hardware.

      As another commentator has mentioned, recurrent training is one way, but there is another aspect of training which is often overlooked called the “law of primacy”. That is, no matter how much training we receive, we tend to revert to what we were first taught under stress.

      So this could embed an automatic bias towards deploying a firearm over a taser which no amount of training can entirely eliminate.

      Might I suggest adopting a technique often employed by Surgeons and Flight crew, which is to call out their actions before performing them. A surgeon might call for a tool and say “Scalpel” which is then handed to them by the assistant nurse and with the confirmation “scalpel”, before digging into the patient’s chest.

      A pilot will call out the target altitude “Descend altitude 2000 ft” for the co-pilot to confirm “altitude 2000 ft set”. We also reserve some words for specific actions. For example “Take Off” is reserved for a clearance or acknowledgement to actually take off. Otherwise we use the word “Departure” before a clearance is given to avoid the mistake of commencing the take off accidentally.

      In the same way, a police office could call out something like “Taser! Taser!” or “Firearm Firearm”, as they deploy. Then another officer may visually confirm “Taser deployed”, or “Firearm deployed” or use a different call to “Check weapon!”, if the incorrect weapon is seen. Similarly, the command to “Fire” should be reserved only for the use of lethal force. The Command to Tase someone would be “Discharge Taser”.

      I only use these as possible suggestions as such procedures would need to be standardised. But I believe the use of the aviation SHELL model may help improve the number and variety of ways in which it is possible to check and catch this type of error before a tragic accident can occur.

      1. Your SHELL model is very interesting and a step in the correct direction! The pilot/copilot situation is very difficult to make possible in the police scenario. I am sure when on scene the totality of the circumstances often outweighs what each individual officer sees. I could not see how one officer would see a lethal threat and then need to “confirm” with a fellow officer as “tunnel vision” generally sets in and auditory exclusion. I understand that flight operations train to stay calm to minimize this! Clearly SOME improvements can be made and hearing and officer yell taser and have a pistol would be a great cause for concern. Not sure the other officers would have the ability to give a verbal correction at the time. I look at use of force incident with police more similar to a snap of the ball in American football then piloting an air craft.

      2. RPG156

        You had my attention until you lost it in the final two paragraphs. Most shootings happen in the blink of an eye. If you train to say, “Firearm, Firearm” and wait for some kind of confirmation, then you will have already been shot a half dozen times while you are waiting for someone who isn’t there, because you are alone, to answer and confirm. Most shootings are initiated and happen in less than two seconds. There may be time in non-lethal incidents to say Taser, Taser… because it’s not a defensive act. And this is something that I know about.

        1. Andy Woolford

          Thanks for your feedback. As I mentioned,

          “I only use these as possible suggestions as such procedures would need to be standardised. But I believe the use of the aviation SHELL model may help improve the number and variety of ways in which it is possible to check and catch this type of error before a tragic accident can occur.”

          Clearly whilst there are some parallels to be had with the aviation model, there are also significant differences, but the SHELL model is a good tool to use to analyse each interface and their applications to Police work.

          As regards the specific examples I suggested, I completely accept the caveat that you cannot wait for confirmation whilst you get shot a dozen times. But perhaps the call out is still valuable so that another officer can see that what you are holding in your hand is what you called out and, if not, then it provides them with an opportunity to shout a warning without limiting your agency to act immediately in the absence of a confirmation.

          Of course it is for the experts in police operations such as yourselves to determine what procedures would be most appropriate and I only suggest that the SHELL model might be used as a starting point to aid such an analysis.

          1. Claudir Heck

            No Brasil utilizamos o modelo Shell para ações de segurança durante treinamentos e também no dia a dia da atividade policial em casos específicos relacionados à segurança na operação de armas de fogo.

            Durante os treinamentos, a limpeza da arma (sem munição) ou inspeção visual de que a arma está descarregada é confirmada verbalmente com a expressão “LIMPO” pelo parceiro que se encontra ao lado.

            No dia a dia, utilizamos o termos verbal “TRAVA” para certificarmos nossa ação de travar uma arma de fogo que utilize tal meio de segurança antes de recebermos ou manipularmos ela, desde é claro que isto não seja durante um encontro de forças mortais.

            Parabéns ao autor pelo artigo e a todos pelo rico debate, par mim Force Science Institute é a melhor referência em aprendizado policial disponível na atualidade.

          2. Von Kliem

            From Google Translate: In Brazil, we use the Shell model for security actions during training and also in the day-to-day of police activity in specific cases related to security in the operation of firearms. During training, cleaning of the weapon (without ammunition) or visual inspection that the weapon is unloaded is verbally confirmed with the expression “CLEAN” by the partner next door. In everyday life, we use the verbal term “LOCK” to certify our action to lock a firearm that uses such a security means before receiving or handling it, provided of course this is not during an encounter of mortal forces. Congratulations to the author for the article and to everyone for the rich debate, for me the Force Science Institute is the best reference in police learning available today.

      3. Steve Suho

        I agree with RPG156 and would add, I believe the officer in the recent shooting did announce TASER TASER TASER as is the current training model for many agencies.

        1. Alpheus

          I would add that the police body cam released of an incident where the police officer is currently standing trial for manslaughter starts with the police officer approaching the suspect just before he starts to resist arrest, ends with the suspect driving off, having just been shot instead of tased, and the entire video is just 59 seconds.

          Additionally, with the two officers involved in the scuffle, both were too focused on the suspect to take the time to check whether the officer had a taser instead of a gun.

          While we certainly need to take steps to reduce capture errors in police work, one thing is pretty clear: use of force events can happen far too quickly to use the techniques that surgeons and pilots use to reduce capture errors in routine activities.

          And, come to think of it, there are certainly events that pilots and surgeons find themselves in, where they don’t necessarily have the chance to use these techniques as well — the occasional need for immediate action isn’t limited to police work!

    2. Dakota64

      The overall message of this article is that in the moment of stress, when a threat to the LE is present confusion between weapons can occur. When an unarmed suspect is trying to “run away” what is the threat to the officer? Seems unrelated to recent events.

      1. FBI SWAT

        The threat in this case was the subject fighting with the police to get back into his vehicle, where he could easily have obtained a weapon of any kind, or use the vehicle itself as a weapon. This particular suspect had an outstanding warrant for illegal possession of a gun. It was certainly reasonable for the officers to believe he could again be armed.
        As with many of the recent events discussed in the media,, and this one in particular, no use of force would have been used by police if people would simply follow the commands of the officers. The time and place to challenge an officer’s actions is after the fact in court, not on the street.

  2. Thank you for sharing this voluminous, important and necessary information. Reading this Article, I was very close to highlighting some of the documented examples in answer to questions asked of me by members of my family.

  3. Todd

    It just seems like a major design flaw of the taser to be shaped like a gun, drawn like a gun, and fired like a gun. Why in the world wouldn’t they have made the “trigger” a button on the back of the device that you have to push with your thumb? You’d never confuse the two then.

    1. RPG156

      Agree 1000%. Simply putting it in a cross draw or weak hand side is insufficient to avoid confusion that happens from lack of training repetition.

      1. Lee Henderson

        Its all boil down to the time you pull the trigger. LE must see their target and verify their
        weapon before squeezing it period. You can’t simply say oops. The round left the handgun by physical force. They had is information. Send out a new warrant. Arrest him alive on new charges. White folks do some of the craziness unthinkable action. Rsisting arrest and still end in up safe in jail and not DOA. Its a proven fact.

  4. Suzanne Kurth

    All well and good – there’s a body of research and practical preventives/correctives. But officers are being criminally charged (and convicted) for these processing errors that, based on the research, * are largely beyond their control,* i.e., psychological processes and failure-to-train issues. There is no criminal intent here. What are we going to do about *that*problem?

    1. Matt

      Exactly Suzanne… more officers are going to hesitate and be injured or killed, that’s already happening but the more they charge people for things that are not their fault the more hesitation, the more avoidance, the less proactive policing..

  5. Karl

    As a trainer I have seen officers use TASER when they should have been shooting; shooting when they should have been using a force level such as taser, and even officers trying to draw and deploy a TASER while still holding a gun. My personal opinion on the reaction-side and facing the “wrong” way. Some would say that slows down draw-time for the TASER but then look at your tactics? Why are you in a situation that would require you to draw your TASER that quickly? Many officers and trainers have used TASER as a “one-size-fits all” force solution. TASER requires annual training but it rarely trained with other tools (Inert OC, baton, hands on, Simmunition) and many other force options just aren’t effectively taught once officers leave the academy. Budgets just don’t allow for it.
    I won’t second guess another officer, but shrinking budgets, defunding the police, and officers being paralyzed by an ever-increasing clone of policies and case law have a big hand in this but we can’t possibly know the depth and breadth of this MN officers training and experience.

    1. RPG156

      You are intuitive and brilliant. There just aren’t enough hours in the day or dollars in the budget to properly train officers. These situations happen so infrequently that it’s simply a matter of economic gambling. Politicians slash budgets until an event happens and then they feign surprise that their own incompetent decisions were responsible for it.

      1. Alpheus

        I can’t help but wonder: is it even possible to get sufficient training?

        At what point do we accept that, no matter what we do, training will always be inadequate, that we, mere humans will every so often encounter a situation where we are unprepared, and mistakes will sometimes be made?

        While we should always be on the lookout for improving situations to try to prevent fatal events, and always be diligent to make sure that fatal events really were accidents, and not the result of negligence, we should also accept the fact that we need to find a balance between spending money on training that will rarely, if ever, come to play, with the loss of life that will inevitably come from the lack of training we decide isn’t worthwhile to pursue.

        And we always have to remember: even untrained people can fulfill their most (and perhaps even all) of their duties adequately, and even trained people can make mistakes.

    2. Robert Bleau

      I agree. Shouldn’t there be a “lesson plan” that requires taser and firearms training, as well as qualifications be conducted together? Uniformed officers carry their tools daily but train with each individual tool separately. Training should include transitioning from one toll to another as the situation, the encounter, changes. Firearms training is done with live ammo at a range (indoor or outdoor). Taser training can be conducted in the classroom. One should train on paper targets at the range with both tasers and sidearms. Proper decision making, threat assessment, force decisions, options, reassess, transition to other options. Yet we have training on the individual tool, be it sidearm, baton, PR-24, taser, handcuffs, OC spray, etc. and never train on how to switch from one tool to the other, more appropriate tool. I retired in 2008 and maybe these things have been already addressed?

  6. amazed dude

    The cognitive disconnect that occurs under stress has to be seen to believed. I have no doubt that Officer Potter genuinely intended to deploy her taser, and was shocked that she had shot her pistol. So is she culpable? Perhaps of involuntary manslaughter? Given that she was lawfully acting as a peace officer, I will be surprised if she gets more than a minor consequence.

    I say that realizing that it might make sense legally, but there is no justice there. Having the means to take somebody’s life should give one pause. You will live a long time dealing with the consequences, as Officer Potter will now realize.

    1. Steven gibbs

      She is charged and might as well plead avoid the expense of a trial. She will do some prison time, I expect a sentence of about 10 years…

  7. The problem is that most police carry a hammer and the only way for many of them to solve every problem is to see every issue as nails. That and being skittish when around every civilian and halfway cocked at the slightest perceived threat.

    Because police are humans, humans have biases and faults while all of us are sinners, the police departments, as the models currently stand, will always use authority and force first and foremost before anything else and if they don’t get rid of the many times escalating matters that needn’t be escalated while the basic police models never get changed, there will always but always be issues with the police. Period. End of story.

    1. RPG156

      Thanks for showing your ignorance and stupidity on this subject. I was wondering when someone like you would chime in and contribute absolutely nothing of value or significance.

    2. Alpheus

      The problem with your comment is we’re discussing instances where a police officer is supposed to be using a “screwdriver”, and is even trying to use that “screwdriver”, but due to the stress of the moment, changes in training, muscle memory, and so forth, accidentally use a “hammer” instead.

  8. Bob Nagy

    Peter J. Bertini: There will always be problems with criminals attempting to escape and/or assault officers. These things happen in split seconds under a tremendous amount of stress, often in life or death situations. There will always be issues with the public not complying with officer’s orders or directions. Period. End of story.

    1. DJ

      Never never never let a suspect back in a car unless you want it to happen.

      What I’d like to find out is did they know his warrant was for violent crimes and his history of using a firearm?

      Depending on what was known she may be able to articulate it was reasonable to believe he was going for a weapon. People don’t fight to get back into a vehicle to get a pen and paper for you to sign an autograph. So even if not intentionally using the gun the facts might be there that the firearm was reasonable.

      The person primarily responsible is the suspect. You act like a decent person and all is good. You act in a way that forces split second decisions and you receive a consequence of such action. Officer don’t have time to debate the finer details in a fraction of a second. They have time to jump to the first viable option. And sometimes it’s not the best option. Training and budget increases for training can help but in reality everyone is capable of an oopsie. Unfortunately police oopsies can be tragic. Almost no profession demands the amount of spit second decision making as an officer with such a high variety of possibilities from the suspect/environment.

  9. Arthur Bodhi Chenevey

    With major new research on how the brain functions as a bio-neurological organ regulating, learning and selecting pertinent contextual actions, one can begin to comprehend the complexity of decision-making under duress. There are no easy answers and quick-fix solutions to this complexity. There are a myriad of variables acting, externally and internally, that result in one’s immediate contextual behavior–for good or bad.

    Policing is a complicated profession, and because of this, individuals need to be strictly recruited, selected, and then properly trained, with a significant hands-on, probationary period before deployed as a reasonably trained and experienced officer. This, alone, is difficult and becoming more complicated as fewer people want to be officers in law enforcement. And departments still need “man-power,” which leads to taking what is offered to fill ranks.

    There is no easy solution. Recruiting, selecting, training and vetting can not be done as separate and lone actions only. These all must required as a whole new set of operational standards. From here, seriously updating training and vetting experiences, must be altered in fashions that coincide with how the human brain/mind functions, stores memories, learns and selects contextually appropriate operational responses. I have watched departments provide officers with so-called training paradigms of Stress Exposure Training (SET) that were not.

    SET is a decent way to train operators for high risks venues, but to do it right demands a three phase application that is both expensive and time-consuming to do correctly, in order to get the measurable operational results. Bad SET can actually traumatize the trainees. These phases cannot be dummy-downed, pretended nor eliminated. There is no short cut to operational proficiency in high risk professions. It takes significant time, effort and resources to conduct properly, achieving measurable results of proficiency.

    When someone in a high stress environment makes a choice that leads to catastrophic events, it is never one thing, but a string of connected and interdependent variables of individual, group (the entire spectrum of social, cultural, educational/training, departmental and adversarial entities) and equipment deficiencies and/or inadequacies.

  10. Matt and Kris, great article and so very well said. In my opinion politicians and law enforcement management, which go hand and hand want their personnel to be super heroes, but when a mistake is made, they won’t hesitate to take the head to save their own asses. Just look at the Capitol officer, who shot and killed an unarmed female, no charges, cleared of any wrong doing. I wonder why. Minnesota officer arrested within 3 or 4 days again I wonder why. It is disgusting in the way police officers are being treated by management and politicians.

  11. Steve Gibbs

    My former agency had us at the range at least two 8 hour days a year. One of the drills wass a target with colored geometric shapes. some targets should have blue triangle, yellow squares, red circles. Other targets had different colored shapes, such as yellow or red triangles. The drill (designed to cure the issue of contagious firing) would have a command such as blue triangles only, UP! A version of this could be name the item Taser UP!

  12. When TASERs first became popular many officers chose to carry the TASER strong side, drop down (upper thigh). That position was responsible for several wrong weapon issues, and drop down TASER holsters became rare. As expected firearm selected when TASER was needed, not TASER drawn when firearm was needed. Cross draw was also popular with many officers that didn’t like support side, standard carry (TASER drawn using non-dominate hand). As the article mentioned, I am unaware of this carry position being responsible for a slip, capture event. There is no perfect location for any weapon, but the one least likely to be confused seems like a place to start. With that said, one intended “Tasing” that ended with gunfire occurred after an officer placed his/her TASER on the hood of a car, fight continued, officer drew and discharged firearm intending to deploy TASER. In most of these events “TASER, TASER, TASER” was verbalized prior to “bang” , often followed by “oh shit”. Humans are imperfect beings currently living in a world that has unrealistic expectations.

  13. RPG156

    Your description of “subtracting them off” concurs with my belief that, in addition to an infrequent occurrence, when people do something out of the normal, like resisting and attempting to get back in to a car (where he might be going for a weapon) she most likely was focused on that scenario and instinctively reached for her gun and then subtracted that… saw that his hands were empty and that he just needed to be tased, but her body had already grabbed the gun and then cognitively transitioned back to “thinking” rather than “reacting”. Add to that, that as an FTO, She felt a need to protect her trainee officer. You see this as she pushes him aside, sensing danger that she perceived he didn’t have the experience to realize. That is just too much for a small town officer with limited training budget to process. And you know that this city is on heightened alert to not commit an atrocity that will end up getting the town burned down. The city leaders bear culpability whether they admit it or not.

  14. Vance

    Matt’s reply is dead on. The lack of training in physical fitness, gun handling skills, empty handed skills and stress inoculation by law enforcement is appalling. LEO’s should not rely on their departments who don’t have the money for this training. They can seek it out on their own and pay for the training just like anyone who hires a trainer for fitness or golf instructor for golf. Heck, I’m just a CWP holder and train at a level well above what most of my LEO friends do.

  15. Wendy

    Great article and many great comments. Training is key but even training won’t completely eradicate mistakes. There is no way to replicate the stress of an actual event. Many departments were hesitant to provide all officers with tasers and this case explains why. It’s an effective tool for the right situation but a genuine mistake like what happened with Officer Potter has life changing consequences for everyone involved.

  16. Jason Mitchell

    It always seemed to me that having a law enforcement taser that’s designed to function like a handgun was a bad idea. It should be more distinct. For a while, Taser produced a model for civilians called the Bolt or C2. (https://www.defenseproducts101.com/images/taser-c2-deployment2.jpg) It wasn’t shaped like a pistol. It was fired by pointing it and pressing the trigger with the thumb. It seemed like a better solution for preventing these kinds of accidents (which I acknowledge are extremely rare).

  17. Training does not make perfect, it is the type of training that makes better performance in a crisis situation. Evaluate training identify performance of the training and take the necessary steps to improve the training in an attempt to make everyone safer. The personnel, who are responsible for training, should not hesitate to indicate poor performance by anyone receiving the training and the appropriate action, should be taken. Top administrators are directly responsible for the actions and performance of their officers and that includes training.

  18. Jerry I agree completely. I had a few problems with that situation though. I did document and make notifications about anyone that I thought was not performing up to standards. However that would upset my supervisor and other people at the police academy that loved their retired on duty jobs. They did not want to rock the boat from a job that they could leave early if they needed, take long lunch breaks, work out every day, weekends and holidays off, etc. don’t rock the boat they’d say.

    The other problem was the agency already was catering to the politicians, drastically lowering hiring standards to increase diversity. When you lower hiring standards, training standards also have to be dropped down for everyone. They would invest so much time and money pushing for diversity, once they have these people in the Academy they saw it as a loss of investment to get rid of them. Never mind many of the people that I flagged did not make it through their FTO or probation period.

    I was having those problems when there was still a gigantic applicant pool and tons of people wanted to be cops….. what about now when some agencies are begging for applicants the way this country is going, I don’t know who’s going to be applying to be an officer right now with everything that’s going on politically.

  19. Chuck

    Great piece and lots of quality replies. The elephant in the room to me seems obvious. Up until four decades ago, cop applicants were tested and selected by cops for their ability to demonstrate adequate abilities at demonstrating command presence in the face of strained controversy, the ability to make quick and good judgement calls, and for their demonstrated ability to properly judge when to go hands on and if they did, to show the skills by which they could quickly subdue and gain control of recalcitrant, non-compliant suspects. All of these were minimally required skills and traits it takes that make a good cop. These job-related, minimally acceptable skills and traits presupposed to employers the applicants arrived for testing would bring those skills and abilities with them. We weren’t seeing these kinds of problems occurring until the standards for hiring minimally qualified cops were changed, essentially, to admit anyone, and everyone, with, or without the skills, or abilities necessary to do the job. You can’t train judgement, skill, and ability into those who didn’t have the mental or physical acumen required to do this job, properly, to begin with…

  20. David Piehl

    Why is the Officer always blamed when a person resists arrest and fights with and Officer? The Officer has zero time to think out a response, are they fearful that their life is in danger? Why does the criminal want to get in their car? Is there a weapon in the car? Will they try to flee and run the Officer down with their car? I feel very sorry for the Law enforcement Officers!

  21. The first tactical error was to leave the drivers side door open the subject should have been moved to the rear of the vehicle, spread eagle taking his balance away, and the officer should have been more forceful to maintain control of him, we have become to dependent on tools, or afraid to go hands on.

  22. E.Oribe

    To mitigate the problem we should look at it differently. why not change the paradigm and train to use the tazer as first response weapon, and have it in a holster on the dominant side?.

    SWAT/combat style training is about incapacitating the enemy fast and furious.
    Policing is about serve and protect.

    The combat mindset and use of firearm as first tool of the trade limits the options for police officers to asses, and prioritize de-escalation. With a training oriented towards quick reaction and use of firearms to neutralize the threat, we are exposing police officers to split second decisions and mistakes that cost them dearly when facing public opinion and judges.

    Lets help the blue line with new approaches, not by reinforcing old ways.

    1. Alpheus

      It’s my understanding that using tasers are tricky. They don’t always work, so the police standard for using tasers is to have one person with the taser, and another with a pistol, ready to fire if the taser doesn’t work, or isn’t sufficient to stop the threat.

      For this reason alone, tasers shouldn’t be used by “civilians”, and it also means that police officers who are by themselves shouldn’t go immediately to their taser if they perceive a threat.

      In the scenario where Potter shot the subject she was trying to tase, it’s tempting to say that perhaps Potter should have had her taser ready to go — but then again, the first officer was trying to arrest the suspect, and so he had neither a taser nor a pistol ready. Then again, if I recall correctly, there was a third police officer there — I can’t help but wonder, at this point, where he was, and why he didn’t have one of either a pistol or a taser ready to go.

      Perhaps the proper solution when approaching a suspect, or making an arrest, is to automatically have one police officer the designated “arrester”, one the designated “gunman”, and a third the designated “taserman”, as the officers are available.

      Of course, none of this speculation should have bearing on what happened in the past — it should merely be something to consider as we go forward. And, for all I know, it might even be a bad idea.

  23. Appreciate it very much intended for publishing this kind of fascinating article on this matter.
    It has definitely created me personally believe as well as I’m hoping to learn to read much more.

  24. I loved it when you said that when an officer first learns to draw their pistol, it may require intense focus to defeat the holster’s retention features, secure a proper grip, maintain a safe orientation, and efficiently draw and capture a sight picture. I will share this with my uncle, who is fond of rifles. I’m sure he will be looking for this Firearms Simulator buy some and add to his collections.

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