In the year 2015, its worth questioning documents that come to you electronically.. scanned from their original print version. Today, the Rochester Police Department released documents outlining both RPD policy with and the effective use of TASER Electronic Control Devices (colloquially: shock-the-shit-out-of-you Tasers). The header of the doc (scanned for reading here) shows a publish date of 2015. The documents inside, however, seem to have been produced some time in 2012 and cite 2011 data as current.
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In the Executive Summary section, p. 4, pains are taken to demonstrate how little the RPD uses TASERs. It notes that only 8% of all “use of force” situations used the TASER and that less than 0.4% of RPD arrests involved them. Furthermore, it notes, Rochester’s Police Department only issues 18% of it’s total police force TASERs. This puts Rochester on the low end of NYS metropolises using TASER technology, according to p. 8.
Sidenote: what the fuck, Greece?
The problem is that this data is all 4 years old and the TASER program in Rochester is only 13 years old. If there were 0% of officers using TASERs in 2003 and 18% using them in 2011, are we to assume that now 29% of officers with TASERs? Because that seems to be the rate of growth, based on the data. That same page notes (see footnote) that the “current budget” in 2012 would have increased that number to 50%, do we know if that happened?
Every other statistic bulleted in this report or impressed upon the media when they released it is called into question by this fact alone. Sure, small numbers are small. But only if they stay that way. What changes about these numbers when we change – to say nothing of double – the scale?
This report is supposed to quell concerns in the media about the effectiveness of TASER equipment, but it leaves a lot to be desired, even if we overlook the antiquity of the data.
What stands out the most is that the bullet point the RPD wants to stress – that the TASER has been 89% effective in “use of force” situations – seems like the impressive way to say that the TASER has been ineffective another 11% of the time. By what benchmark were the other 11% ineffective? What was the next step in those situations?
Helpfully, the RPD also includes (p. 31) a “Use of Force Matrix,” which appears to be part of a training document showing the desired escalation of force by police officers in the field. As you might expect, the TASER appears near the very top of this matrix. Above that scale, officers are instructed that deadly force, “Impact Instruments” and the illustrative term “Groundcuffing” may be used.
But this just raises the question: if TASERs are only effective 89% of the time, are we given to understand that the ineffective cases graduate to lethal force? The report shows several cases of TASER use, but none of them deemed ineffective, so we don’t know based on the report.
I don’t think I’m looking too deeply into numbers and certainly, these are the sorts of questions that can be reasonably asked in a reasonable press conference and dispelled with reasonable answers. But how much of that will actually happen between now and when the story’s dead?