Training With Juice
August 19, 2011
With a distinctive buzz, snap and electrical sound, accompanied by a groan, two probes embedded themselves in the back of Officer Leobaldo Gertz.
Instantly his face wrenched out of a calm stare into a grimace of pain. While his body twitched uncontrollably, his friends lowered him gently to a mat on the floor. Brief seconds later, the electricity stopped and he caught his breath while lying on the soft blue mat.
"Whew," the 54-year-old said shortly afterwards. "That was intense."
Welcome to the TASER, the newest non-lethal tool for Directorate of Emergency Services security officers to use protecting the U.S. Southern Command headquarters complex.
Following eight hours of extensive safety, rule-of-engagement and operator training, getting stunned was a shocking end to the training session. Gertz was one of five volunteers to experience the device, although it was not required for certification.
"With the TASER, we now have a non-lethal option to deal with situations here," said DES Director Ed Weeks. "Before this, all that was available was a lethal response."
Non-lethal weapons are designed and employed to incapacitate personnel while minimizing fatalities and permanent injury to personnel. Garrison Policy is to use only that level of force reasonably necessary to control or otherwise subdue violent or potentially violent individuals, in appropriate circumstances.
State certification was required for Lt. Marino Flores, DES training officer, who was the TASER instructor for the force.
Flores was adamant about doing things the right way; and assisted with putting together a standard operating procedure. "Even though they are certified, we will not carry until the SOP is finalized," he said.
For the operators there are liability releases and other legal documentation that must be filled out. The device even stores the time and date of every usage; it also ejects dozens of little confetti-sized ID tags imprinted with the number of the cartridge. The data is uploaded into a national database, Flores said, and can be checked on if there is a question about a use-of-force incident.
A TASER is an Electronic Control Device, designed to disrupt a subject's central nervous system by deploying electrical energy sufficient to cause uncontrolled muscle contractions and override an individual's voluntary motor responses. An understanding of electricity as being similar to water shows that Gertz and the others were not in mortal danger. A raindrop or squirt gun has more force than water coming out of a bucket, but the bucket will get you much wetter.
This doesn't mean that it wasn't effective.
Because of its pulsed nature, sending extremely short pulses that mimic and disrupt normal brain commands, the average current from a TASER ECD is less than 0.004 amperes " that's a fraction of the more than 15 amperes (like the bucket) " that can be generated from a standard wall outlet.
"It made me lie down and behave," said Officer Steven Williams, another volunteer. "I couldn't move."
There has been a change in the force even when they aren't being shocked, said Flores.
"You can see that some of these guys " especially the ones that have the bragging rights " they feel more confident in the system," he said, noting that he still has more classes to conduct.
He will need some more volunteers, but is not expecting any repeats.
"The first time you try it, is out of curiosity, any time after that is out of stupidity," he said laughing.
The bottom line for Weeks, who is tasked with protecting SOUTHCOM? Improved confidence for his staff and safety for the headquarters. "The department's training program is constantly improving."