Police Officer Defense Against TASER

A uniformed police officer, working without a partner and with backup not yet arrived, confronted a subject in a cramped apartment hallway. Without provocation, the man lunged at the officer. Both went to the ground. The man took away the officer's TASER, and soon rose to his feet. 

The officer, still on his backside, unholstered his pistol as soon as he realized he'd been disarmed of his belt-holstered TASER. He got to his feet, soon to be about eight (8) feet apart from his assailant. The officer began to back-pedal to get ground between them. The man raised the TASER at the officer. The officer raised his pistol at the man... 

The man suddenly darted into his open apartment and locked the door. With the officer's TASER. 

My SWAT team got paged out within minutes. I was the tactical supervisor on the squad assigned to the very hallway corridor where the attack occurred. I recall the "Rules of Engagement" conversation I had with the guys, that went something like this: 

The cop's TASER is yellow. If all this guy's got is a yellow TASER, nobody is shooting him. There's ten (10) of us; one (1) of him. We're all wearing helmets, eye protection, and heavy armor. Half of us are behind shields. The worst that's gonna happen here is one (1) of us up front takes a five (5)-second ride. Let's make sure we've got TASERs and beanbags up front too. And someone try to break the wires if one (1) of us gets Tased. If he's got a gun, deadly force is back on the table. Anyone disagree or have questions?

There were none. Within an hour, the man surrendered out of his apartment door. He was handcuffed without any drama. Overall, it was a pretty boring SWAT call-out. 

I talked to the involved officer who was assaulted in the hallway and disarmed of his TASER. I knew him well. He told me that he kept his TASER in a certain mode that illuminated white light and a red laser when Armed.  It was in Safe mode in his holster, from where the weapon was taken. (Armed is the equivalent of turning ON the weapon; Safe is equivalent to being OFF) 

During the two (2)-second-long standoff, the TASER in the man's hand had no lighting illuminated -- indicating to the officer that the TASER remained in Safe mode (as opposed to Armed). The TASER then jerked down, as if the man anticipated handgun recoil. The man's face changed to surprise when nothing happened. And he darted to his right, immediately into the doorway. 

The officer was a seasoned, athletic, physically fit, very tactically-minded cop. He told me that he felt confident that he was quickly moving away, outside the TASER effective range, with enough room behind him in the hallway to create enough distance to avoid the probes reaching him. He said he was waiting for the white light to be illuminated, which never happened. Had the white light gone on before he could get up or away, he'd have shot the man. He thinks the man pulled the trigger but didn't realize there was a thumb switch to arm it.

The man never gave an interview to officers to get his perspective of the incident. 

Simply, this man is lucky to have disarmed a cool, level-headed, risk-calculating officer. You might call him reluctant or indecisive; having known this officer for two (2) decades, I wholly disagree. 

I feel confident that other cops (maybe many cops...maybe most cops) in his situation would have fired their pistols at him. And legally speaking, in my opinion, would have been justified in doing so.  I'm not convinced that many officers would have been processing those nuances of: the TASER lighting setting, the downward jerk, the changed facial expression. 

This is not one (1) story. This is at least two (2) stories. 
  1. The story of the squared-away street cop whose mind (& OODA) was out-pacing the tempo of change. 
  2. The story of the tactical team who discussed how variables of protective equipment, number of officers, and multi-layered options of less-lethal force positively impacted decision-making in this incident. 
If you want to add a third story, it's the untold tale of the man who wasn't killed by a police officer that night. I've said it before: Policing is like a toupĂ©; you don't see it when it's good. 

I recently published an article on a hybrid approach to use of force case law and continuums. In it, I make the argument for considering how every tool can be used by a police officer to the Deadly Force-degree. Basically, you can kill someone with anything and everything. And there is value to this discussion in how to rightly use the tools, techniques, and weapons so that they limit the risk of serious injury to an offender. 

There is a follow-up flip-side to this approach: Each tool or weapon that an officer brings to an incident can be taken away and used by the offender(s) against the officer(s). 

Some of the most significant variables that should factor into how officer responds to such loss of weapons:
  • number of officers/offenders;
  • whether the offender is using to attack/assault, or in-hand during escape;
  • spread/proximity/distance between officers/offenders;
  • how to defeat the effectiveness of the weapon;
  • protective gear used/worn by officers;
  • mobility of officers/offenders;
  • terrain or intermediary obstacles.
(I'm certainly not going to publicly discuss how to defeat police weapons, tools, or techniques. But that's not really the scope of this post either.) 

As police officers, we should strive to be as savvy and quick-thinking as the above TASER-disarmed cop. This was a cop who received A LOT of tactical training, underwent volumes of scenario-based exercises, and perpetually What-If'd with himself. And while he admittedly never considered that exact scenario, he had considered similar-enough situations to have a response in his playbook. 

Every tool we bring to the game is something that can be turned on us. We prepare by listing as many of the limitless variables and factors that can go into an incident. And figuring out what might work, and why, and how. And then imagining more. 

We hope to build up a mental repertoire of responses for us to fall back on when faced with the unimaginable...but close enough to that which we imagined. 


Lou Hayes, Jr. is a criminal investigations & intelligence unit supervisor in a suburban Chicago police department. With a passion for training, he studies human performance & decision-making, creativity, emotional intelligence, and adaptability. Follow Lou on LinkedIn, & also the LinkedIn page for The Illinois Model


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