June 2008: Vol. 3, Issue 6
Contributor: Ron Honberg
In recent years, many law enforcement agencies have begun using "Conducted Energy Devices" (CEDs) in an effort to reduce deaths and serious injuries resulting from use of force by law enforcement officers. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, CEDs are "less-lethal devices intended to deliver an electrical charge sufficient to momentarily disrupt a subject’s central nervous system, enabling better officer control of the individual and causing minimal discomfort or injury."[i] Tasers are the most commonly used and widely publicized CEDs used by law enforcement agencies, but other types of CEDs such as stun guns and impact delivery systems are used as well.
Relatively little independent research has been conducted on the safety and efficacy of CEDs. The small amount of research that has been done suggests that in communities where these devices are used, fewer overall deaths and serious injuries resulting from the use of lethal force have occurred.
Nevertheless, concerns have arisen that CEDs may not be entirely safe. These concerns have particularly been focused on Tasers. An October, 2005 article in The New York Times reported nearly 140 documented deaths of people who were taken into police custody with the use of a Taser.[ii] Some of these deaths involved people with serious mental illnesses. Most of the deaths were due to cardiac or respiratory arrest, and a number of the autopsy reports listed "excited delirium" or "agitated delirium" as a contributing factor to the death.
Concerns about CEDs have been reinforced by aggressive marketing by companies that manufacture these devices and the realization that the use of these devices is largely unregulated. Moreover, training requirements and standards governing the use of CEDS appear to vary broadly from community to community.
In March, 2008, the NAMI Board of Directors adopted a new policy on the "Application of Less Lethal Weapons by Law Enforcement Officers." This policy was adopted by the Board after receiving extensive input from a variety of sources, including NAMI’s grassroots membership, the NAMI Consumer Council, representatives of the law enforcement community, and others.
The policy emphasizes that CEDs should be permitted only when responding officers conclude "that an immediate threat of death or serious injury exists, which cannot be contained by lesser means, and/or is likely to be hazardous to the officer(s), the individual (they are responding to), or a third party." CEDs are not an appropriate substitute for alternative de-escalation techniques, nor should they be used "as a means of intimidation or inappropriate coercion."
NAMI’s policy also calls upon states to develop and enforce standards governing the use of CEDs and defining who is authorized to use them. The policy emphasizes that state laws should prohibit the usage of CEDs by those not authorized in statute to use them. The policy also recommends that states develop mandatory training requirements for all law enforcement, correctional and other personnel authorized to use CEDs.
To date, much of the research on CEDs and particularly Tasers has been funded by corporations with a financial stake in selling these products. NAMI’s policy recommends federal and state funding and promotion of independent research to better understand the benefits and risks of these devices.
Finally, the policy recommends that each usage of a CED by a law enforcement officer should be investigated by the law enforcement agency that employs the officer in the same way that the use of a firearm would be investigated. This is the best way to ensure that these devices are used only in situations that warrant such a response.
NAMI’s policy on less lethal weapons can be found in NAMI’s Public Policy Platform (See Section 8.9).
As this issue of CIT in Action goes to press, we have received news that an interim report has been released by the U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, concluding that "there is no decisive evidence of a high risk of death or serious injury from the direct effects of Tasers and other Conducted Energy Devices (CEDs)." This report can be found atthe National Institute of Justice website.
This month, the Council of State Government’s Justice Center, in partnership with the Police Executive Research Forum, released its new report, "Improving Responses to People with Mental Illnesses: The Essential Elements of a Specialized Law Enforcement-Based Program." The report is intended to serve as a guide for communities planning to implement law-enforcement-based responses to people with mental illness in crisis, including CIT.
Identifying ten components of a successful law enforcement response, the report emphasizes partnerships between stakeholders in planning and implementation. The report also highlights some of the steps that must be taken to ensure a program’s long term sustainability, including law enforcement agency policies, program evaluation, and expanded mental health treatment options. Finally, the report addresses the operational components of a law enforcement-based response, including specialized training, dispatcher protocols, transfer of custody and information exchange.
The report was supported by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. For more information about this and other resources in the Council of State Government Justice Center’s Improving Policy Responses to People with Mental Illnesses series, visit the Criminal Justice/ Mental Health Consensus Project website.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation received word that they, along with NAMI Georgia and other partner organizations involved in the statewide Georgia Crisis Intervention Team, will be awarded the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s (IACP) Civil Rights Award. The award will be presented at the IACP’s annual conference in November. The award is in the category of "Multi-Agency Team" and, according the IACP website, is awarded to a team with, "members from different law enforcement agencies that have worked together to address a civil rights crime or a civil rights related community problem." To learn more about the Georgia CIT program, visit the NAMI Georgia website. To learn more about the IACP, visit their website, www.theiacp.org.
Earlier this month, the
Organizers of the 2008 CIT National Conference report that the conference flier is now available. To download a copy, click here. In addition, the call for presentations is open until July 16th. Conference registration is now open, and the regular registration rate is available through September 25th. For more information, visit the NAMI Georgia website.
At its national convention this month in
[i] James M. Cronin and Joshua A. Ederheimer, “Conducted Energy Devices: Development of Standards for Consistency and Guidance”, U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services and Police Executive Research Forum,
[ii]Alex Berenson, "Police Group Urges Limits on Taser Use,"New York Times,October 19, 2005.