NAMI Board Adopts Policy on Less Lethal Weapons
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 at the National Institute of Justice website.
[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, Washington DC, 2006, available at: http://www.cops.usdoj.gov/RIC/ResourceDetail.aspx?RID=379
[ii]Alex Berenson, "Police Group Urges Limits on Taser Use," New York Times, October 19, 2005.