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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!