Sunday's shooting of a man by a Brooklyn Center police officer with her service firearm instead of her Taser touched a nerve in Rochester.
In 2002, a Rochester police officer shot a man with his gun, rather than his Taser. The incident sparked many changes in police policy and practices here.
“We're here today to reassure this community that we are dedicated to continuous improvement, and that we are dedicated to providing the highest level of public safety service to this fine community that we serve,” Rochester Police Chief Jim Franklin said during a news conference Thursday at the department's North Station.
The conference was called to discuss how the department uses Tasers and how that use has changed since 2002.
“We're here today also to highlight the significant changes that have occurred not only with the Taser devices themselves, but also in reference to policies, training tactics, the strategies that we've used and the enhancements that have been made over the course of the last two decades that produce better outcomes on the street for the police officers,” he said.
Here are some key takeaways. The full news conference can be found on the Post Bulletin’s Facebook page.
What changes have been made?
The Rochester Police Department was an early adopter of Taser technology. When officers began carrying Tasers, the devices were black and looked similar to a firearm. The Tasers officers now use are bright yellow, and while they have a similar structure to a handgun, the barrels are much "chunkier."
In 2002, officers did not have holsters for their Tasers, and they were often carried in a pocket on the same side as an officer’s firearm.
How are Tasers worn now?
Tasers, according to department policy, are carried in a "weak-side" holster, opposite the duty weapon. For a right-handed person, this means the Taser is carried on the left. The policy also says Taser devices must be clearly and distinctly marked to differentiate them from the duty weapon.
Removing a Taser from its holster on a duty belt also requires a different physical action than that of a firearm.
How are officers trained?
The Rochester Police Department does an eight-week, in-house training for all new officers. The training includes things like Taser use and certification, as well as reaction-based training, Capt. John Sherwin said. The department also uses virtual reality simulators to train officers.
“We try to simulate the experiences that they'll encounter on the street,” he said. “From what we went to in 2002, to where we are currently, it's night and day, as far as how officers are trained, as far as how they carry and deploy with the Taser.”
Officers receive an annual refresher training regarding the use of a Taser, which includes policy review, as well as drawing and firing the device.
Officers have mandated firearm training, which Sherwin said adds up to about four hours. The department does additional advanced skills training with their firearms, as well.
Sherwin said the department’s goal through training and repetition is risk mitigation.
“Until we create the perfect human, there will always be a small risk,” he said. “Just like surgeons perform surgery and medical mistakes happen. We deploy police officers on the street, they're humans … Our goal with training and continuous improvement is that risk mitigation.”
When can a Taser be used, per RPD policy?
The Rochester Police Department’s policy states that a Taser may be used when a person is violent or is physically resisting, or "reasonably appears to present the potential to harm officers, him/herself or others.”
The policy also states that “mere flight from a pursuing officer, without other known circumstances or factors, is not good cause for the use of the Taser device to apprehend an individual.”
For example, Sherwin said using a Taser would not be appropriate if someone’s reaction to an officer’s greeting was to turn and run. It would not necessarily be justified to use a Taser if a person started to run after they were told they were being detained or arrested, he added.
“There would have to be some sort of physical resistance or threat that would have to be reasonable under the circumstances,” he said. “An officer would have to be able to articulate that. So simply using a Taser for someone who's running is not an appropriate use.”
A Taser is a use of force, and would also fall under the department’s use-of-force policy.
Would a Taser have been justified per RPD policy?
Out of “fairness for what that community is going through,” Franklin said he would not discuss or speculate on the Brooklyn Center case.