About once every 10 days, a police officer in Johnson County has to use force, such as a Taser, to get control of someone who is trying to run from police or fighting against officers.
Since the beginning of the month, a courthouse security officer used a Taser on a man in court after he fought officers who were trying to take him back to jail. Greenwood’s SWAT team also used pepper balls and a Taser to arrest a man who was hiding in a bedroom and wouldn’t come out.
For every time an officer uses a Taser, there are multiple more situations where pulling it out of the holster and threatening to use it is enough to get a person to start following orders, local police said.
When a person doesn’t follow commands or tries to fight an officer or others, using force, including stunning someone with a Taser, using pepper spray, striking a person or using a K-9 officer, may be required to safely defuse a situation, Sheriff Doug Cox said.
Since the beginning of the year, Greenwood police have documented using force 34 times. Johnson County Sheriff’s Office deputies and correctional officers at the Johnson County jail have done so 24 times since May. Franklin police has had one incident this year, but it only documents use of force when Tasers or firearms are used, Franklin Police Chief Tim O’Sullivan said.
From 2010 to 2012, Greenwood police used force an average of 33 times per year, with most of those for using a Taser, Greenwood assistant police chief Matt Fillenwarth said.
More officers use a Taser because it is the most effective and safe tool to get a suspect to follow orders, local police said. The shock from a Taser prevents a person from moving and causes pain without typically causing an injury, although incidents have occurred worldwide where a person has died from a Taser shock. Officers can fire the weapons from a distance, meaning they don’t have to get close to a person who may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol or ready to fight.
When people don’t follow police orders or try to fight with officers, police may resort to using force to get someone to obey. Officers train to learn when to use weapons such as Tasers and have to file a report whenever they do.
Types of force: Force options used by police include techniques and weapons, such as using Tasers, spraying pepper spray or tear gas, knocking people off balance, using pressure points or joint locks to cause pain, striking people with hands, feet or batons, using K-9 officers or shooting a firearm.
One up: Generally police are allowed to use one level of force higher than what a suspect is using. For example, a person who refuses to stand up and obey police orders could be shot with a Taser, but striking that person with a baton wouldn’t be allowed.
Situational: Determining what level of force is reasonable can vary based on the situation. For example, an officer might choose not to use a Taser on a person who is not following orders if he or she is with additional officers who could help grab and handcuff a person.
Tracked: Police fill out reports whenever they have to use force on a suspect to document what was done and why. Police also can download logs from Tasers, which show how often the Taser was used and for how long so officials can make sure they are being used correctly.
Force the issue
Times Greenwood police officers have used force this year. Most of those incidents involve officers using Tasers, assistant chief Matt Fillenwarth said. The city has averaged 33 incidents per year since 2010.
Times Johnson County Sheriff’s Office deputies and jailers have used force since May. Nineteen of those incidents have occurred in the Johnson County jail but are low-level, hands-on force such as knocking a person off balance or grabbing arms, training officer Bob Paris said.
Times Franklin police have used force this year. The police department only documents use of force such as when officers use Tasers or firearms, Franklin Police Chief Tim O’Sullivan said. Franklin has had fewer than five incidents each year since 2010.
A suspect may have injuries such as cuts or scrapes from falling, but they aren’t a direct result from the Taser, Johnson County Sheriff’s Office training officer Bob Paris said. Tasers significantly reduce the number of injuries for police and suspects and can save lives, he said. For example, if a person came at an officer with a knife, the officer could reasonably use a firearm to stop the suspect but instead could use a Taser to stop and disarm the person, Paris said.
Tasers also automatically log when they are used and track how many times the trigger was pulled and for how long, Fillenwarth said. Those logs are downloaded after a Taser is used so police can review them and determine whether an officer acted improperly in a situation or as a defense against suspects who say an officer used excessive force.
Police officers are trained each year on when to use force, including determining when and how much force is appropriate. Multiple factors, including the suspect’s actions, whether other officers are present, how many other people are nearby and location, can determine whether using a weapon like a Taser is appropriate, Paris said. Sheriff’s deputies receive 24 hours of training per year, which includes at least two hours practicing defensive moves.
Tasers are considered to be on the lower end of the scale, from low force options, such as oral commands, to lethal force, such as using a firearm, police said. Officers are trained to use a Taser in situations such as a when person refuses to move, pulls away or struggles with an officer who is trying to make an arrest, for example.
The weapon has become the most popular option for officers because it can incapacitate a person and be fired from up to 20 feet away, Fillenwarth said. Other options such as using pepper spray or grabbing someone to knock them off balance put police in a situation where they could get hurt.
For example, after spraying pepper spray, the officer still has to try get control of a person and apply handcuffs. Officers also likely will feel the effects of the pepper spray because it can splash or blow in the wind and hit them while they are trying to wrestle with a suspect, he said. None of those problems exists with a Taser because a person is immobilized while being shocked.
“They just really haven’t come out with anything close to the effectiveness of the Taser. I can’t tell you the last time an individual officer used Mace around here. I’ve Maced plenty of people in my career and had as much of it in my face as in theirs,” Fillenwarth said.
Officers know what it’s like
Before being allowed to carry a Taser, officers have to be shot with and receive a five-second jolt from the device. That exercise helps shows officers what a suspect will feel and helps officers understand why many suspects will start cooperating either just from being shown a Taser or after they are shot with it one time.
“I’ll never get shot with that again. It was awful. It was like having a Charlie horse from head to toe,” O’Sullivan said.
When he was hit with the Taser, Fillenwarth recalled, he tried to say “Turn it off” but couldn’t get anything out past the “T” sound because of the jolt.
Because Tasers cause only pain while other methods, like using a baton or firing a gun, can cause serious injury or death, officers are trained annually about when it is appropriate to use force, Paris said. As a general rule, an officer can use a level of force above what a suspect is using against them, but that can change depending on the age or gender of the officer or suspect or number of other people around.
For example, a 180-pound deputy may have to use a Taser earlier to control a 250-pound man who is intoxicated. But if three officers are at a traffic stop dealing with an uncooperative driver, using a Taser might not be warranted since they should be able to work together to control and handcuff that person, Paris said.
Training lessons also remind an officer not to use a Taser in certain situations, such as around flammable liquids that could ignite or near water where a person could fall in and drown while immobilized from the jolt, O’Sullivan said.