Electronic control weapons ( ECWs ) can be an effective law enforcement tool that often poses less risk to officers and civilians than other force options. However, it is critical that the legislature, law enforcement agencies deploying these devices, and officers on the street recognize the risks of serious injury and even death inherent in ECW use.

Only after both the risks and benefits of ECWs are understood can reasonable judgments be made about whether to adopt these devices, how to structure the deployment process, the appropriate training, the procedures for proper use (in particular, placement of this weapon in an agency s use-of-force model and use in certain situations or against certain populations), medical care following discharge, and supervision and record keeping related to these weapons.

The Task Force makes 60 specific recommendations, covering each of the issues listed above. In addition, it proposes suggestions for future research and a legislative agenda. The Task Force s complete recommendations are found below in Part XIII of this report. The Task Force s proposed suggestions for future research and a legislative agenda are found below in parts XIV and XV, respectively.

There are a high number of detailed recommendations covering a broad range of subjects because, to date, these issues have not been adequately addressed in Maryland. While a few law enforcement agencies currently have reasonable training and procedures, the majority of law enforcement agencies are inadequate across the entire range of recommendations made by this Task Force. No agency currently follows all of the best practices recommended here.

The fact that no agency in Maryland currently meets or exceeds the standards set forth here should not be taken to mean that these recommendations are overly stringent. Although reached independently, the Task Force s conclusions mirror those found by a long and distinguished list of similar bodies both in the United States and abroad, including the following: the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Human Effects Center of Excellence (funded by the U.S. Department of Defense), the United States Army, the Police Executive Research Forum, the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Standards Board, the Canadian Police Research Centre, the United Kingdom s Defense Scientific Advisory Council s Subcommittee on the Medical Implications of Less-lethal Weapons, and the Braidwood Inquiry (sponsored at a national level by the Canadian government). Each of these reports was reviewed in detail and is cited where appropriate below. In addition to reviewing the work of similar bodies, the Task Force s year-long process included a careful review of the medical literature, the policy recommendations of various advocacy groups, the invited testimony and participation of all stakeholders and the testimony offered during two public hearings. The Task Force s findings and recommendations are in keeping with and supported by this extensive fact-finding process.

The consistency between the Task Force s recommendations and those of these other groups underscores the consensus about what needs to be done to ensure that ECWs are used as effectively and safely as possible. This consistency across so many organizations also demonstrates that the Task Force s recommendations can be implemented here as well.

ECWs are a new and emerging technology and the science about their effects is constantly evolving.1 Prior to the work of this Task Force, there had been no effort in Maryland to sift through the available information and provide clear guidance. The law enforcement representatives on this Task Force both recognized the need for such guidance and were invaluable in shaping it.

Training materials provided by the manufacturer of these devices and early law enforcement training tended to significantly understate the risks associated with ECW use. This fact, coupled with the ease of use of this device, appear to have lead to over- reliance on ECWs by law enforcement nationwide, particularly in response to relatively low-level threats of harm and situations that have now been shown to involve a heightened risk of injury or death. These events, seen as abuses by many, appear to have arisen primarily from under-education of law enforcement officers regarding the risks associated with ECW use.

Although rare, serious unintended ECW injuries and deaths do occur. Even though these events are unusual, their impact can be substantial. Of course, any injury or death is a tragedy for the individual affected, his or her friends and family, and the officer who discharged the ECW.

Moreover, due in part to the novelty of the weapon, when serious ECW injuries or deaths do occur, they are often reported broadly by the media. Likewise, this same effect is seen when news of negative ECW outcomes is spread by word-of-mouth through the community. Community reaction can broaden the impact of unintended negative ECW outcomes beyond the subject and the officer who discharged the ECW, affecting community-police relations. In this way, misapplication of ECWs can impair the effectiveness of the agency and the safety of its officers. Finally, some agencies have stopped using ECWs as a result of community reaction to high-profile ECW injuries or deaths.

As a result of the potentially far-reaching consequences of even one ECW- related death or serious injury, it is critical to minimize the occurrence of these outcomes. This is accomplished through an appreciation of the risks of ECWs as well as the benefits, and by ensuring that ECWs are used appropriately and only against appropriate targets. The examples of injuries and deaths cited herein from the medical literature and anecdotal accounts should be carefully reviewed and incorporated, when possible, into officer training to help avoid the potential for reoccurrence. 

 

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