NEW NIJ STUDIES EXAMINE POLICE USE OF FORCE
WASHINGTON - The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) today released two reports about law enforcement officers’ use of force. Study of Deaths Following Electro Muscular Disruption examines deaths that occurred after an officer’s use of a Conducted Energy Device (the vast majority of which are Tasers). Police Use of Force, Tasers and Other Less-Lethal Weapons examines thousands of incidents where officers used various methods of force including hands on tactics, batons, firearms and less lethal weapons such as conducted energy devices (CEDs) and pepper spray.
The findings of both reports support the use of less lethal devices because the research shows these devices help protect law enforcement officers, reduce injuries to suspects, and may prevent injury to bystanders.
Summary of Findings:
In Study of Deaths Following Electro Muscular Disruption, a panel of experts examined why individuals died after exposure to a CED during encounters with law enforcement. The panel, selected in collaboration with the College of American Pathologists, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Association of Medical Examiners, reviewed nearly 300 cases to determine whether CEDs contributed to or were the primary cause of death.
The panel found that while in some cases the possibility that the direct effects of a CED can be lethal cannot be excluded, the risk of death due to the electrical effects of a CED has not been conclusively demonstrated and that caution should be used when interpreting the inclusion of a CED on a death certificate or the classification of the manner of death as a homicide as an absolute indictment of the CED as the sole or primary reason for the death.
The panel found that from a medical perspective, law enforcement need not refrain from using CEDs, provided the devices are used in accordance with accepted national guidelines and appropriate policy. The use of a CED on potentially at-risk individuals should be minimized or avoided unless the situation excludes other reasonable options. It is critical to minimize or avoid multiple or prolonged activations of CEDs to subdue an individual. However, there may be circumstances where this is required. The panel recommended some form of medical screening after all CED exposures starting at the scene of the incident. It also suggested all deaths following deployment of a CED should be subject to a complete autopsy by a forensic pathologist in conjunction with a medically objective investigation that is independent of law enforcement.
The full report, Study of Deaths Following Electro Muscular Disruption, is available at http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/233432.pdf.
In Police Use of Force, Tasers and Other Less-Lethal Weapons, researchers analyzed 25,000 use of force incidents from 12 large local law enforcement agencies. The study found that when officers used force of any kind, injury rates to citizens ranged from 17 to 64 percent, while officer injury rates ranged from 10 to 20 percent. The use of physical force (hands, feet, fists) by officers increased the odds of injury to officers and suspects alike. However, the use of pepper spray and CEDs decreased the likelihood of suspect injury by 65 and 70 percent respectively.
Researchers further analyzed the experiences of several specific law enforcement agencies to learn how introducing CEDs affected injury rates, reviewing use of force information from police departments in Austin, Texas and Orlando, Florida. This approach tracked injuries before and after CED introduction and included more than 10,000 use of force incidents from the two agencies. A large drop in injury rates for suspects and officers alike occurred in both cities following CED introduction.
The researchers noted that good policies and training would require that officers evaluate the age, size, sex, apparent physical capabilities and health concerns of a suspect before using a CED. In addition, policies and training should prohibit CED use in the presence of flammable liquids or in circumstances where falling would pose unreasonable risks to the suspect such as in elevated areas or adjacent to traffic. Policies and training should also address the use of CEDs on suspects who are handcuffed or otherwise restrained, and should either prohibit their use outright or limit them to clearly defined, aggravated circumstances.
A summary of the study is available at http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/232215.pdf. The complete, 173-page study is available at http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/231176.pdf.
The Office of Justice Programs (OJP), headed by Assistant Attorney General Laurie O. Robinson, provides federal leadership in developing the nation’s capacity to prevent and control crime, administer justice, and assist victims. OJP has seven bureaus and offices: the Bureau of Justice Assistance; the Bureau of Justice Statistics; the National Institute of Justice; the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; the Office for Victims of Crime; the Community Capacity Development Office, and the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking (SMART). More information about OJP and its components can be found at http://www.ojp.gov.