Monday, May 16, 2005

Shocking, just shocking

Sorry about the recent lack of posts - I just went through a great school courtesy of the US taxpayers (thanks, guys - you know who you are.) Unfortunately, the days were long, and when they were over, I was too tired to do much more than grab a beer and hit the rack.

More details on the course later - suffice it to say for now that I got to spend a full week driving like a maniac, swerving and weaving around cars, ramming my way through parked cars, and shooting out of and through car windows. The irony is that, after one memorable late night coming back to Ft. Polk from Tunk's Steak House, my team's SOP is to not let me drive. (In my defense, I'll just say that I hadn't been drinking and that I've never hit anything head on.)

One of my teammates who had been at Fort Polk and in Afghanistan with me was there at the course. On the last day, we were sitting in the front seat of a Crown Vic, right after I had driven him through a drive-by shooting course. He turned to me and told me, "You know, going through this course with you has really made me feel a lot better about your driving." That made me feel pretty good. "Oh," I said, "You really think my driving's gotten better?" "No," he replied, "It's just that I've gotten a lot more comfortable with car crashes and near misses."

Part of the class was a discussion of less-lethal options (the term less-lethal comes from the law enforcement community, and is short for "less lethal than taking a bullet between the eyes." It refers to a whole family of responses that could kill somebody but probably won't, ranging from a baton to pepper spray to the Tazar.) Thanks to this course, I'm now certified with the Tazer and with OC (oleoresin capsicum - pepper spray) which will come in handy if I ever decide on a law enforcement career.

Less lethal options seemed to be an odd fit with the rest of the class, but it was good training - I can easily envision a half dozen scenarios where I wouldn't want to kill somebody (either because they didn't need it, or because I'd rather our side get a chance to talk to them later) but wouldn't necessarily want to have to go hand to hand with them, either. I'd feel pretty comfortable counting on a Tazer to disable someone long enough to take control of them. I can personally attest that nobody's going to draw a gun or a knife while they're being Tazed.

And, by the way, I was wrong before about knowing what a Tazer felt like. When we first got there, we got a class on the Tazer that included a demonstration of its effects: The instructors got a group to stand in a horseshoe shaped line and link arms. Then, they wired one of the probes into the man at one end's shirt, and stuck the other probe into the shoe of the man at the other end. Once we were all wired up, the instructor cut the device on for a few seconds.

I'm told that a demonstration like that "checks the block" on the requirement for "live exposure to the device", which is required to become a certified Tazer operator. Unfortunately, the instructors at this course wanted to make sure we got our money's worth. During the practical exercise with the Tazer, we stripped to the waist and the instructors came by and drew a large black circle under our right shoulderblade to act as a target. Then we took turns firing the Tazer into our buddy's back and getting Tazed.

The worst part was that my buddy wasn't the first to take the shot. Once the instructor said, "GO," I heard several devices fire, heard the buzzing crackle of the Tazer operating, and heard the groans of pain from the guys around me. Then my buddy finally fired. . .

From behind, you can hear the "pop" of the barbs being launched a split-second before they hit. And then the ride begins. It lasts five seconds, and those five seconds last several hours. The Tazer is designed to disrupt muscular control, not cause pain - but dentistry is designed to fix teeth and not cause pain. In either event, the side-effect is there. The sensation is not unlike wedging your entire body inside a light socket. On the bright side, once the ride is over, it's over. There are no residual effects - it's like throwing a switch. Well, no residual effects aside from then having the barbs pulled out - they're wicked little fishhook looking things, designed to penetrate several layers of clothing and skin. When fired into bare skin, they embed all the way in. It doesn't hurt when they come out - the skin has been "desensitized" by the electricity - but they do start to ache later. Of course, by that time, we had been hit by pepper spray, so it didn't bother me as much as it might have otherwise.

Having been through "the five second ride", I can vouch for the efficacy of the device. I did come away with new concerns about its use by civilian law enforcement, though. When I was talking to him about it, a good friend of mine, who makes his living in law enforcement training, made what I thought was a good point: He said that there appears to be some danger of death or injury from the Tazer, but it's a lot less than that of getting shot. When the Tazer is used appropriately, as an intermediate step between empy-hand / restraint techniques and deadly force, it saves lives of both police and suspects. When it's used inappropriately, in situations where either restraint techniques or even forceful verbal direction are more appropriate, it's a bad thing. His take was that police officers who are overweight, or out of shape, or who lack physical or mental confidence in their training or ability, tend to resort to the device when it's not needed - and that kind of overuse is a good bit of what's creating the backlash against the Tazer. When one gets used against a verbally abusive arrestee who's already handcuffed and in a squad car (well, actually, he got shot, the officer in question confusing the Tazer with her sidearm) , or one is used against a six year old, it's clearly out of line.

The other thing I don't get about "less lethal" options is the whole insistence on exposure to their effects during training. I've heard a couple of justifications for it - that the trainee will have confidence in the effect if they're exposed to it; or that the trainee will be confident that the option is, in fact, not typically lethal if they choose to employ it. In the abstract, I can be convinced by either of those lines of thought. While I'm going through it, I tend to suspect sheer sadism. After all, I've never been to a M-4 qualification range and been told: "OK, it's 20 rounds from the foxhole supported position and 20 from the prone unsupported at targets between 50 and 300 meters away. After that, we're going to shoot you in the leg so you'll have confidence in the weapon."

Next time, just tell me how effective the Tazer or pepper spray are. I promise to believe you.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

On my department the younger deputies have gone along with the (optional) "getting the chair" ride, while the older ones, just a few years from retirement are more firmly in the "Hey, I didn't have to get shot with my .40 in order to carry it..." crowd.

We video'ed one of the young assistant prosecutors who got the chair. He said later it was the longest five seconds of his life, so far.


12:14 AM  
Blogger Papa Ray said...


Just don't get your weapon and your Tazer mixed up when a bad guy is about to shoot you.

Here is something for a little giggle.

Continue the Mission

Papa Ray
West Texas

2:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, they Do hurt!

I did NOT say this:

Get a hand held unit, have it
"de-tuned" -power reduced.

apply to wind-pipe,will stun
and silence the "target".

remember, I did NOT say this ;)

2:45 AM  
Blogger Snake Eater said...

I suspect the insistance on exposure to "less than lethal" options has two reasons.

First, to assure us that they work and, secondly; to show us just how powerful they can be when they work .

4:31 AM  
Blogger Mare said...

I vote sadism. I mean they must get bored teaching the same stuff over and over. Seems like it would be fun...for them anyway. Funny stuff.

3:07 PM  
Blogger Angel said...

LOL I vote for sadism also, takes me back to early EMT classes, we had to start IV's on each other, give IM injections and all manner of things before we could go to the hospital and practice on patients or go to the morgue and practice on warm stiff's.

Though, some of it was fun, especially the sager splint practicals :-)


5:18 PM  
Anonymous Joan said...

You know, you could make good money with that tazer. I used to know a ton of people who would pay for that sort of 'stimulation'. ;)

6:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


8:30 PM  
Blogger Nicole said...

Ouch is right! I hope I never have to feel that!

Did you have to go through the tear gas thing in boot camp? I've heard some horror stories about that.

Thank God there are men out there willing to do all these things.

11:18 PM  
Anonymous Tired Taxpayer said...

You are welcome! Glad you enjoyed yourself!

BTW-I love your blog!!

4:13 PM  
Anonymous AHS MilBlogger said...

I attempted to get some of my Soldiers into a course like this before we deployed. I was not aware of such a school taught by the Army, so I only looked in to private ones. Each would have cost anywhere from $5K to $25K, per person, so we were unable to do it. We can justify building a super-Wal-Mart-sized PX at Baghdad airport, but we can't justify funds to train our soldiers.

Anyway, I was just curious, how worthwhile was this training, in terms of applicability to OIF/OEF? I know that SF folks ride around in civilian-type vehicles, so maybe it is more applicable to you guys. Does any of what you learned carry over to patrolling in HMMWVs?

9:11 AM  
Blogger Lee said...

Having driven with your before you SF days, I can only imagine that the additional training has not calmed you down.

I don't remember the wrecks, but I do remember a lot of close calls.

As to the Tazer, one need only watch COPS to see that they are using these in the wrong situations. If the option is to shoot the guy or use a Tazer I will vote for the Tazer.

That said, Police are now using them where they could have tried to physically restrain someone and used their wrestling skills or sheer numbers to overwhelm a suspect.

I think Tazers are like code generators. They are good tools but should not be relied on to do the job for you.

Glad you enjoyed the training. As a tax payer, "Your Welcome."

11:47 AM  
Blogger Jack said...

Been there and done that a time or I'm an instructor and get to do it unto others. Good times.

10:43 PM  
Blogger Lennie Briscoe said...

So would you say being zapped by the Tazer is better or worse then doing a run and then being put in the gas chamber with a few CS pellets and no mask ?

9:33 AM  
Anonymous MKL said...

Seems to me you took a taxpayer funded course just to be qualified to drive on a LA freeway and be the safety guy at a S&M club.

4:06 AM  
Blogger Bec said...

Excellent and very funny!

8:42 PM  
Anonymous JS said...

Im in Law enforcement, and you should of seen me in the taser class. I avoided it for 4 years before they caught up with me..Im a chick that doesnt dig electricity.... The guys in class had to pyhiscally restrain me to zap was hilarious. I got forced for almost 10 hits.

12:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Advertising can be a big problem otherwise. A lot of companies reserve a big chunk of their budgets to cover marketing expenditures.

5:39 AM  

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