By Craig Hastings
This is another, “So what do I think?” week. I’ve been pressed for my thoughts and opinion in regard to the Daunte Wright shooting that occured last week in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. If you’re not familiar with the circumstances, a 20-year old African American man was fatally wounded after a white female police officer fired one 9mm round from her service weapon into the chest of Wright. Wright had been stopped driving a vehicle with expired registration. A check of Wright’s driver’s license revealed he also had an outstanding warrant for his arrest. Three police officers can be seen in the body cam evidence at the time of the shooting. One of those male officers was attempting to place handcuffs on Wright when Wright broke free, sat down behind the steering wheel of the car, and drove away. However, before Wright drove away and during the struggle inside the car, you can clearly hear the female police officer warn Wright that she was going to tase him and then clearly say out loud, as we have all been trained to do, “taser, taser, taser”.
The obvious problem with all of this was that you can clearly see that the female officer is holding a semi automatic service pistol. She fired one round and then immediately stated, “Oh, sh__! I shot him!” So the debate and armchair quarterbacking begins. The question, “How in the world did she not realize which of the two weapons she was threatening to deploy?” There is much more to talk about here than you might think. The question isn’t easily answered not being able to be in the officers mind from the beginning to the moment of the shot. So, I’ll answer the question with just my own thoughts trying not to place blame and make judgements on the events as they unfolded that day.
First I’ll talk a little bit about tasers. Why tasers? I think two things about them. One, some police officers don’t have enough confidence in their own ability to go hands on with an arrestee so a taser is a safer choice for them. Two, some police officers are just lazy. It’s certainly much easier just to tase someone than to wrestle with them. In the case of physical hands on arrests, government employers sometimes would rather the use of a taser so to avoid worker’s compensation claims from most certain injuries occurring from physical confrontations with arrests. I believe Tuscola was the last police department in this county to purchase any tasers. This was my decision at the time and I took a lot of criticism over it. Two things about this newest less than lethal device concerned me. There had already been several rumored tasings of police officers “dry stunning” each other in fun just to see what it felt like. A dry stun is when the taser is placed directly on the skin and hopefully without the barbs being deployed from the cartridge. Of course the “fun” spread outside departments to family and friends asking to be tased by police officers they knew. I didn’t want any part of this. Secondly, I was concerned just the opposite might happen that happened in Minnesota. I was afraid one of our officers might grab their taser instead of their pistol in the heat of the moment. So I passed for many years. Pepper spray would be our go to less than lethal device for a while until I could be convinced otherwise.
Finally, after reviewing many documented and successful deployments by police using tasers, I bought two. Our officers were not required to carry a taser on duty if they chose not to but, if you did you must have taken the required training first. For many years I was one of those that did not carry a taser. Even after the decision was made to purchase tasers for each officer, I didn’t carry one. Old guys, old ways, reluctant to change. Today, I have one in my squad car but seldom do I wear it on my duty belt. I’m not afraid I might draw the wrong weapon for the wrong application, I guess I just believe if I might need a taser I’ll know that before I get to the call I’m going too. And if I do I’ll just get it out of the car and drop it in my pocket. Not only this but, every other police officer on scene will probably have one so why would I need to have one?
I have been shot with one, barbs in my skin and all, during a training exercise. Trust me it hurts. It hurts worse than any pain I remember in my lifetime which there have been many events. Tasers are manufactured in yellow and black. Never would I allow black and have no idea why any department would. They blend in and look nicer on a duty belt I guess but, for sure a cause for mistaken identity. We do not dictate by policy where officers are required to wear their tasers on their duty belts. As was the case in the Minnesota incident, wearing it on your weak hand side of your duty belt, which is their policy, doesn’t assure anything! This is the policy of many departments. For whatever reason someone sitting behind a desk decided wearing it directly opposite of your pistol would keep the taser from being a subject of mistaken identity. Nope. I would rather chance that our officers would carry the taser in a position that they have deemed most comfortable for them individually to draw and deploy without confusing it with their duty weapon and vice versa. So far, so good. It’s a delicate balance. The taser must also be located in a position the officer can defend it’s removal by a combative arrestee. This is another reason I don’t carry it on my duty belt. I don’t want to worry about it being taken away from and used on me.
So what happened in Minnesota? Adrenaline mostly. I believe the officer drew her service weapon initially when she exited her own patrol car because she believed, for reasons only she knew, it was the weapon she might need most if this encounter with Mr. Wright went badly. Did she know something about Mr. Wright before this day? Had she had prior contacts with Mr. Wright that was physical in nature? Did she know if he was a gang member or not and were members of this gang known by police to carry handguns? Was she the cover officer responsible for clearing and securing any passengers in the car? Before judgement can be passed these questions will all be determined I think. For a reason we don’t know yet, the police officer felt the need to elevate her own self defense mode when she arrived on scene. I say this only because she drew her pistol in the first place. Been there, done that, many times myself in forty years. However, as the threat level dips so should your own preparedness to an appropriate response. Reholster a pistol and move to a device of less than lethal response. That might be a taser, an expandable baton, pepper spray, or my personal preference, simply your hands in a wrestling match. The old way right!? This officer has 26 years of experience in patrol and specialized training. This could not have been the first time she had drawn her service weapon and later reholstered the weapon before the incident was over. She was looking over the top of a black slide of a Glock handgun. The taser she carried is yellow. The size and weight of both should not have mattered as so many “expert” news commentators have commented about. The color is the key to not making this mistake. The lighting was good. The two weapons in hand do feel enough alike that in the heat, excitement, and fear, of the moment most officers would not be readily aware of the difference.
“Oh yeah Craig, Geraldo Rivera said the weight difference should have alerted her of the mistake she was about to make!” Don’t get me started on Rivera! This is the same idiot who also suggested on FOX News that the fix for the taser carry problem is for police to carry the taser on their strong hand side and their pistol on their weak hand side!! WTH! Geraldo went on to say, “It would only take a second longer to draw, reposition in the strong hand, and sight in the guy shooting at you.” Absolutely this man knows zero, nothing, not a damn thing about the reality of this scenario and how police are trained to not only save their own lives but yours, your family’s and any other innocent person too. Milliseconds are the difference between living and dying in a shootout! Fortunately, Dan Bongino hammered Rivera with his response to Rivera’s ridiculous and uneducated opinion on the taser wear fix! It was a fantastic exchange that took place on last Wednesday’s “Hannity” on FOX. Poor Geraldo completely lost his composure and actually called Bongino a son of a bi___ on air!
What do I think would be the best fix for the taser mistaken identity dilemma? By the way, this isn’t the first time this has happened. Only the first time that the person on the receiving end died though. Other people have been shot by handguns by police when the police officer failed to reassess the situation they were involved in and scale down their response level accordingly. I think an alternative should be the “fix”. For police administrators like myself who like to err on the side of caution, a new design. I would like to see a more square design that is deployed by a person’s thumb and not fired with a trigger engagement like a service pistol. Tasers have both a light and red dot sight. These both could easily be incorporated in a new design. So, mine would be bright yellow, more square, and thumb activated. The holster would be a straight up draw design with a safety catch preventing it from being readily removed in a scuffle. But that’s just an idea by an old guy that’s been around a long time…maybe too long huh?
(The views and opinions expressed in the submitted columns are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of The Journal.)