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Citizens Police Academy-week 4: TASERs, probable cause, IA

The TASER X26 (

This week’s CPA class was about TASERs, reasonable suspicion, probable cause, use of force, and Internal Affairs. Apparently TASER stands for Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle, after a children’s book character from the early 20th century. The inventor was a fan. The big takeaway from the presentation was that TASERs—or ECDs, for electronic conductive devices—are safe.

They may pump you full of voltage, but if you know anything about electricity, you know it’s the amps that kill you. And ECDs put out very few amps. The shock confuses the electrical signals in your muscles, causing them to contract. Since they’re all contracting at once (those between the two barbs of the ECD), the muscles lock up and the person can’t move.

We watched a video where two medium-sized cops were trying to arrest a 350-pound man, Mike, who looked like a WWE wrestler. Mike’s hands were almost twice as big as the officers’. No way could they go hands-on with this guy and win. So when he repeatedly refused to put his hands behind his back, even after they warned him what would happen, they had a third officer “tase” him.

Mike locked up and the two officers lowered him to the ground onto his stomach. The ECD discharges for five seconds, after which Mike was back to his old belligerent self. Another warning, another shot of voltage, and finally the big guy got the idea.

Mike later said, “I’ve been shot, I’ve been stabbed, but damn, that hurt.” But he was able to walk away, maybe a little wiser, maybe not.

After the TASER presentation, we learned about reasonable suspicion, probable cause, and use of force. Here are my takeaways:

  • If an officer stops you because they suspect you are up to no good, they must be able to articulate for the magistrate the thought process behind it. The supreme court has ruled that it must be reasonable, not that the officer has to be correct.
  • The key is to be able to prevent crime, not to have to wait until it takes place before stopping someone.
  • They can frisk you if it’s reasonable to expect that you might have a weapon, either based on previous experience with this type of person (e.g. drug dealers), or because they see a sign of it (e.g. bulge on hip).
  • They can search anything within lunging distance of the suspect—like a backpack or under the seat of your car—if they suspect a weapon might be there also.
  • How much force the officer uses is entirely up to the suspect. Resist and get tased. Fight back and get mace or a nightstick. Pull any kind of deadly (including a knife) or incapacitating weapon (like another officer’s TASER), and expect to be shot. In the chest.
  • Officers don’t shoot to wound or slow down. They always shoot to kill.

Again, they must be able to articulate why they escalated to a certain level of force, but it just has to be reasonable under the circumstances that faced the officer in the half of a second they had to make the call.

We ended the night with a presentation by Internal Affairs. In Fairfax County, it’s an involuntary rotation of about two years, offered to those officers who’ve distinguished themselves in their service. It’s not a coveted assignment, but it’s almost a requirement for them to move up in the chain of command.

IA’s purpose is not just to catch officers in the wrong. It’s also to protect them from false allegations. IA investigates every citizen complaint, every police cruiser accident (even opening the door into a pole or tree), every use of force, as well as charges of corruption, lying, and so on. For smaller incidents (e.g. the car door meets pole), the investigation/punishment is handled at the station level and merely tracked by IA.

If criminal charges are involved, they do a separate investigation, and usually wait until the criminal charges are resolved. IA investigations are only for purposes of determining which type of action the department should take, and do not get involved with criminal proceedings.

If an officer is under investigation for something serious, IA will take his badge, credentials, and service weapon, and put him on administrative leave with pay until the matter is resolved.

If a police officer is involved in a shooting, he gives up the weapon and talks to IA, the Criminal Investigations Bureau (to be covered in a later week), and a psychologist. If it’s determined that the shooting was probably a “good” one, the officer will be put on administrative duty and given a replacement firearm for his safety (unless he seems too shaken up or mentally unprepared to handle a weapon).

The Chief of Police has the final say on all punitive action within the department.

We got to ask lots of questions, and I could share so much more, but I'm sure you're sick of me by now. 🙂

Sorry this is a day late. I got caught up organizing my expenses for the accountant. Yuck!

Tell your friends!


  1. KM Fawcett


    Wow. I didn’t know officers always shoot to kill.

    Did anyone ask questions about is a TASER could stop the heart or if it could cause arrhythmia? Would it disrupt a pacemaker’s electrical impulses?

    Thanks for the post, Gwen!

    • Reply

      Good questions, Kathy. Apparently, it is not strong enough to stop a pacemaker. Now, someone with a heart condition might have a problem if they’re under stress, but the TASER shouldn’t cause an arrhythmia. Simple solution. Don’t resist arrest! 😉

      As far as shoot to kill, they’re always going to aim for the center of mass to make sure they don’t miss. If you’re threatening them, deadly force applies.

  2. Reply

    I’ve often wondered, if you get pulled over for speeding in the middle of an emergency (say you’re driving your kid with a broken arm to the ER, or your pregnant and highly in labor wife), will the cop give you a ticket, help you get there quickly and safely, or both?

    • Reply

      They might do both. The motor cop we talked to said that it’s not his job to determine if the circumstances were excusable. That’s for the judge to decide. Though, I imagine some of them would cut you slack.

      Of course, if you need to get to the ER that quickly, you should probably call 911 anyway so the ambulance can treat you on the way if necessary. 😉

      • Reply

        I’m not too worried about it, but I have two cousins who almost gave birth in the car as their husbands sped through traffic. I live 4 miles and 2 traffic lights from the hospital, so I think I’ll be ok. I’ve just always wondered.

  3. Reply

    A cop near me gave a speeding ticket to a man driving his wife to the hospital to give birth. And she did give birth right away.

    Interesting post, Gwen. Your CPA sounds a lot better than mine was (though mine was pretty good).

    Uh, you managed to distract me. lol

  4. Reply

    Great post! I’ve often wondered about a lot of these points. You’ve done a terrific job of explaining them as well. One question: do you happen to know if the same procedures are true for the FBI? Now I’ve got to read up on weeks 1, 2, and 3, which I missed. Thanks for the great lesson!

    • Reply

      Thanks, mesummer! I don’t know about the FBI. To me it would make sense that they’d be similar since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on these things, but don’t take my word for it. =)

  5. Pingback: LAPD field trip, part II « The Edited Life

  6. Reply

    I know I’m way behind the curve here, but I have really enjoyed reading your experience with the Citizens Academy. I would like to challenge one point on the shooting; at least here in Seattle, we are trained to shoot to stop the threat. It sounds like nitpicking but it isn’t. Contrary to (some) public opinion, police officers don’t want to kill people, although that is often the outcome when aiming for center mass. Ultimately, the goal is to end the threat to the officer and the public if that applies. I really wish more folks would take advantage of citizen academies in their jurisdictions. The more well informed people out there about police work, the better. Thanks for a great series and since I haven’t read all of it (just discovered your blog today) my apologies if this has been covered.
    Debra Brown

    PS. Love the Scrivener for Dummies book.

  7. Reply

    Debra: I understand what you’re saying. I may have reinterpreted the officer’s words without thinking about it. I know he was getting at the point that they don’t shoot to wound because there’s too great a chance to miss, and also because if you’re shooting at someone, you have to be prepared to kill them. But yeah, shoot to stop the threat is the real goal.

    I agree that everyone should go through the CPA. I encourage anyone who will listen. 😉 I’ve learned so much, not only about law enforcement, but about my community. And it’s nice for the officers and the citizens to meet in a positive situation.


  8. Reply

    The whole ‘shoot to wound’ is such an interesting concept and one not understood by many people. I can’t count the number of times I’ve tried to dissuade people from the idea that we should be able to shoot the gun out of the bad guy’s hand or shoot a suspect in the leg. I’m sure you now have a better appreciation of how difficult that is in the real world after going through the firearms training. Anyway, glad to hear it was a positive experience for you.

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