MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The body camera video of the Daunte Wright shooting shows the officer firing her gun after yelling Taser three times. Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon says he believes she intended to use her Taser. But are the two weapons so similar that such a mistake could happen?
Dr. Shawn Williams, a criminal justice professor at St. Cloud State who trained officers in use of force for 16 years, says watching the footage raised several questions in his mind. “How often has she used her Taser? How often has she trained with her Taser? How often has she trained transitioning with her Taser?” he said.
Williams believes that the officer genuinely made a mistake. “It’s my own opinion now that I’ve watched that video three times in the last 30 minutes, I truly do believe that she actually did think she had her Taser in her hand,” he said. “You can tell by the way she’s waving that thing around. You’re talking about split second decision-making under stress.”
Brooklyn Center police policy states that Taser training should occur every year, and it should include reaction-hand draws or cross-draws to reduce the possibility of accidentally pulling the gun.
Generally speaking, Williams says practice makes perfect.
“Every officer knows you have to practice with your tools,” he said. “That’s transition drills: that’s handcuffs to Taser, taser to firearm, firearm to Taser, back and forth. Constantly practicing, getting that muscle memory in there.”
Williams says he always instructed keeping the Taser far from the lethal weapon.
Gannon gave some details Monday on Brooklyn Center’s training. “We train with our handguns on our dominant side and our Taser on our weak side so if you’re right-handed you carry your firearm on the right side and your carry your Taser on the left,” Gannon said. “This is done purposefully and it’s trained.”
Axon, the company that makes Tasers, said to WCCO in a statement that they’ve “implemented numerous features and training recommendations to reduce the possibility of these [accidental] incidents occurring.”
Axon’s full statement:
Axon’s mission is to protect life, and we prioritize the safety of our customers and the communities they serve above all else, which is why we remain committed to developing technology and training for public safety. The tragic death of Daunte Wright is still being investigated; as such, we cannot comment on the specifics of the incident. However, we understand this incident may have involved the accidental use of a firearm rather than a TASER® energy weapon, which we can generally address.
Numerous independent, peer-reviewed studies have established TASER energy weapons as being the safest and most effective weapon available to law enforcement officers. However, like all use of force weapons, they are not risk free. Although very rare, there have been isolated incidents of an officer accidentally using their firearm instead of their TASER energy weapon. Over the years Axon has implemented numerous features and training recommendations to reduce the possibility of these incidents occurring. This includes building TASER energy weapons to look and feel different than a firearm: a TASER device has a different grip and feel and is heavier than a firearm; is offered in yellow to contrast a black firearm; a LED control panel lights up when the safety is taken off; and it is contained in a holster that is different and separate from the officer’s firearm.
Axon also specifically warns of the possibility of weapon confusion and provides training recommendations to mitigate against it. Based on recommendations by use of force experts, Axon recommends that a TASER energy weapon be placed on an officer’s non-dominant side, and firearm on the dominant side. This, coupled with energy weapon training that incorporates muscle memory drills and scenario based training, helps an officer react on instinct to know which weapon the officer is selecting. However, it is ultimately up to each police agency to develop their own policy and training relating to TASER energy weapon placement and deployment.