A recently released independent review found Taser use by Montgomery County police officers to be low and not their go-to weapon of force.
Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett asked for the study in March after a published report by the Baltimore Sun raised questions as to whether the use of Tasers by Montgomery County police officers was appropriate. The Sun report stated that of the 11 Marylanders who have died since 2009 in Taser-related police encounters, four involved Montgomery County police officers—the most in any jurisdiction in the state—and in three of the four deaths the Tasers were used for longer than the 15 seconds recommended by the manufacturer.
In a press conference announcing the findings in early August, Leggett said, “These questions (about Taser use), of course, were not raised in a vacuum. A host of incidents throughout our nation have focused intense scrutiny on the use of force by law enforcement. We ask our police to do a very tough job.” In commissioning the study, Leggett said he wanted it to be comprehensive and thorough.
Dr. Geoffrey P. Alpert, a professor in the criminology and criminal justice department at the University of South Carolina with more than 25 years of experience researching high-risk police activities, was asked to conduct the four-month study. Published in more than 100 journals and author to 15 books, Alpert also led a study funded by the National Institute of Justice on police officer decision-making.
Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD) began using Tasers 15 years ago. Today, the 1,265-member department has 560 police officers equipped with Tasers. The report looks at more than 200,000 calls for service last year. Out of 50,000 crimes reported, more than 17,000 arrests were made by officers. Force was used 451 times—82 percent were an officer using their hands to control and/or guide. Tasers were deployed 59 times.
During the press conference, Alpert explained how he investigated the Taser use including looking at “Use of Force” reports, attending training, and speaking with trainers and officers who deployed Tasers while on patrol.
Quoting his report, Alpert said, “Perhaps the most important finding of this study is one known well to the officers and the administrators of the Montgomery County Police Department that Taser use is low and not the go-to weapon or weapon of choice that is found in so many police departments throughout the United States.”
During the press conference, Alpert recalled a 2010 investigation he participated in of Taser use throughout the country. “I can remember going to some training bureaus where the training officers were saying we found the ‘lazy cop syndrome’ here. We found officers that go to the weapon too early. We found officers who go to the weapon too often and we really should take it away from them because they are not using it properly. I didn’t see that here (at MCPD). I think it is remarkable that you have a department of this size with this many weapons on the street and you have so few deployments. I think it is impressive to look at the training that they have been given. It needs some tweaking. We talked to trainers about doing more role play, about more decision-making. They do a very good job of de-escalating situations. Officers get that. They learn it. They practice it, and over time they are going to deploy that on the streets so it is a good set-up here.”
MCPD Chief Thomas Manger said he thought the report was a very comprehensive review. He was “gratified by the fact that one of (study’s) conclusions was that the Taser use by the Montgomery County Police Department is low and that it is not the go-to weapon for our police officers. … There are many situations where use of force is necessary in the job that police officers do. It is my responsibility and it’s the responsibility of this department to make sure our officers—that we have strong policies, that our training is sound, and that officers are abiding by that training and that certainly is a responsibility that we take very seriously.”