Police Tasers: Butler County prosecutor questions departments on training, policies

Attorney Ben Crump, representing the family of Daunte Wright, holds up images depicting X26P Taser and a Glock 17 handgun during a news conference at New Salem Missionary Baptist Church, Thursday, April 15, 2021, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Attorney Ben Crump, representing the family of Daunte Wright, holds up images depicting X26P Taser and a Glock 17 handgun during a news conference at New Salem Missionary Baptist Church, Thursday, April 15, 2021, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Credit: John Minchillo

Credit: John Minchillo

Within days of an incident in Minnesota in which a police officer fatally shot a man when she reportedly intended to fire a Taser, Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser was questioning law enforcement here about training and policies.

He found departments were already reviewing policies and procedures.

“All the chiefs were ahead of the issue,” Gmoser said.

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In a letter sent to county police chiefs, Gmoser raised questions about the color and feel of Tasers verses service weapons. He noted while the color of the Taser — yellow as opposed to black like a gun — might help in some cases, it may not be enough for confusion avoidance.

“Is there a distinct difference in the feel of a service pistol and a Taser?” Gmoser asked.

As a pilot, he noted a similar situation on control levers of a plane.

“In my airplane, the propeller pitch, mixture and throttle controls all have knobs that feel different to avoid confusion, especially at night,” he said. “Improper recognition of those can be catastrophic in an airplane. Also, in my plane, the gear up/down switch is on one side of the panel and the flap switch is on the other. Both look and feel the same with one small difference in activation of the flap switch.”

Gmoser said he would not be surprised to see Taser “add a tonal alarm when the Taser is unholstered both to avoid confusion and to add to the spoken officer warning ‘Taser Taser Taser.’”

Both black and yellow Tasers are carried by officers, depending on the department, in Butler County.

Middletown Police Chief David Birk, who is a Taser trainer, said Tasers have at totally different feel from a Glock handgun carried by his officers.

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“The Taser handle and grip is smaller,” he said. “They are a lot lighter. You can blindfold 100 officers and have them pull it up a Taser and they are going to know the difference. No doubt about it, just from the weight and feel”

The Taser is carried on the left side and has a side lock, which is not on a service weapon, he said.

“I doesn’t have anything to do with color,” Birk said. “When you are pulling an item, making split-second decisions, you are not looking to see what color it is.”

The Hamilton Police Department has both yellow and black Tasers that are carried on the “weak-hand side,” said Sgt. Rich Burkhardt. Officers must pass an annual qualification with the Tasers the includes written and practical testing.

“Additionally, prior to this incident, HPD implemented a daily routine for our officers. Each day before officers hit the street they draw, inspect, and test their Taser. This routine reinforces safe handling and develops muscle memory for proper deployment,” said Hamilton Police Chief Craig Bucheit.

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones said deputies carry black Tasers. He said deputies train with both Tasers and handguns.

The Taser is worn on the less dominate side of the deputy’s belt near the front because they are drawn much less. Jones said in 2020, members of his department used a Taser three times, and in 2019, a Taser was used five times. A service weapon is drawn, but not necessarily fired, much more often.

“Color doesn’t make a difference,” Jones said. “By the time they pull them out, the discharge pretty quick. You have a split second, just like your handgun, to use the weapon. Not looking at the color. It is about training and muscle memory. And remember, a Taser is a cross draw. It’s light and it feels like a toy not like a handgun.”

Jones said what happened in Minnesota “was a terrible mistake.”

“Everybody makes mistakes, and she will have to account for it,” he said. “No matter how much training, you will never eliminate everything, you will never eliminate human error.

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