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The Forensic Force® Series: Psychophysiological Responses to TASER®-ECD Influence

As originally published in PORAC Law Enforcement Executive Forum, 2010

By: Dr. Ron Martinelli & Jerry Staton
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This article was peer reviewed and edited by Sergeant Ed Flosi, MS, Use of Force Training Supervisor, San Jose (CA) Police Department.


One of the most pressing problems within the law enforcement and use-of-force instructor communities is the reconciliation of force deployments with subject noncompliance and resistance. With the advent of more sophisticated and effective Electronic Control Devices (ECD), most notably produced by TASER® International, many officers have elected to use this quantum of force in place of oleoresin capsicum (OC) sprays, impact weapons, and physical control techniques.

There have been a number of controversial ECD deployments upon noncompliant or physically resistive and combative subjects, including a number of incidents involving in-custody deaths in which ECDs were used. As a result, the media, the public, and the courts have significantly increased their scrutiny of ECD use by law enforcement.

A new decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in Bryan v. McPherson (2010), discussing the appropriateness of a TASER® ECD as a "non-lethal, but intermediate quantum of force," has joined the historically more notable federal force guideline cases. These cases provide use-of-force instructors and officer end users with force consideration and management parameters. Law enforcement officers are reminded that the Fourth Amendment which addresses aspects of search and seizure and our use of force, requires that we are obligated to balance "the nature and quality of the intrusion (quantum of force used) against the countervailing governmental interests at stake (the need for that level of force)" (Graham v. Connor, 1989).

As the 9th Circuit Court recognized in Bryan and the 8th Circuit Court in Brown v. City of Golden Valley (2009), and as use-of-force instructors and officers know, while ECDs have been described as capable of delivering a 50,000 volt charge, this does not accurately describe the electrical impulse actually experienced by an ECD-influenced subject. Depending upon a number of unique circumstances, the full 50,000 volts do not enter the subject's body but are sometimes needed to ensure that the electrical current can complete a circuit through the air or the subject's clothing. In fact, and again depending upon each unique set of circumstances, TASER's® X-26 model ECD normally delivers a peak voltage of only 1,200 volts to the body.

There is much discussion within the law enforcement, legal, media, and ECD manufacturing communities as to what the actual physiological effects of ECD influence-referred to as load-are upon the body. Much of the research that has been published has been manufacturer driven and is obviously open to interpretation, scrutiny, and speculation. While there have been some independent studies of the physiological effects of ECDs, to our knowledge there have been no studies on the psychological effects of a subject who is under an ECD load.

The investigators wished to conduct a limited, independent research experiment on the psychophysiological effects of an ECD load upon test subjects. This project was funded by Martinelli & Associates: Justice & Forensic Consultants, Inc. of Temecula, California. This forensic and law enforcement consulting and training firm conducts independent use-of-force research and forensic investigations and has no financial ties or professional relationship whatsoever to any ECD manufacturer. Both investigators do provide forensic investigations and expert witness services in criminal prosecution and civil rights litigation in the areas of police/corrections practices and use of force/excessive force involving ECDs.

. . .Continue to read rest of article (PDF).

Dr. Ron Martinelli, Ph.D., B.C.F.T., C.L.S., is a former Criminal Justice Training Center Director and current Police / Corrections Practices, Criminal Investigations and Use of Force Instructor with a unique combination of extensive field experience and academic credentials that attorneys, judges and juries appreciate and commend.

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