ECW Guidelines: New and Improved

In 2005, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), with assistance from the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (the COPS Office) and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), convened a discussion on conducted energy devices (CEDs). Representatives from more than 50 law enforcement agencies, labor union representatives, academic researchers, medical doctors, and other subject matter experts assembled to develop CED guidelines.

The forum produced 52 guidelines and a comprehensive glossary of terms.  The guidelines were not meant to be fully definitive or the final word on CEDs, but rather offer clarification for law enforcement leaders and policymakers. The guidelines were adopted by many law enforcement agencies—at times being adapted to fit the local agency. However, as happens with most controversial and uncertain topics, research continued and real-world situations led to the need for a serious conversation about updating the guidelines.

image of cover of 2011 Electronic Control Weapons GuidelinesThe COPS Office reignited its partnership with PERF to reassess the Electronic Control Weapon (ECW) (previously named CED) guidelines as well as investigate new developments from the last five years. To do this, PERF conducted background research and administered a survey in 2010 to nearly 200 law enforcement agencies. Another forum was convened in August 2010 that included police executives, researchers, attorneys, and doctors, as well as representatives from Citizen Review Boards and Professional Associations. Attendees discussed current research, survey results, and the 2005 guidelines in light of their professional views and years of experience. The second day of the forum brought together a group of 25 participants in an executive session for a concentrated review and update of the 2005 guidelines. The culmination of the research, survey results, and forum discussion produced the revised 2011 guidelines.  These new guidelines are based on seven guiding principles :

  1. ECWs should be considered as less-lethal weapons.
  2. An ECW should be used as a weapon of need, not a tool of convenience.
  3. Officers should not rely heavily on ECWs in situations where more effective and less risky alternatives are available.
  4. ECWs are just one of a number of tools that police have available to do their jobs, and they should be considered one part of an agency’s overall use-of-force policy.
  5. In agencies that deploy ECWs, officers should receive comprehensive training on when and how to use ECWs.
  6. Agencies should monitor their use of ECWs and should conduct periodic analyses of practices and trends.
  7. Agencies should consider the expectations of their community when developing an overall strategy for using ECWs.

Some changes in the 2011 Electronic Control Weapon Guidelines when compared to the 2005 Guidelines include:

  • Conducted Energy Devices changed to Electronic Control Weapons (ECWs): There has been an acceptance that ECWs are less-lethal weapons that provide a tool to control a person who is actively resisting authority or acting aggressive.
  • Guidelines are now organized into six categories: Agency Policy, Training, Using the ECW, Medical Considerations, Reporting and Accountability, and Public Information and Community Relations.
  • There is an emphasis on accountability and responsibility for the use of ECWs.
  • With developed technology in ECWs, medical guidelines address repeated use, high-risk populations, positional asphyxia, and drive stun mode. 
  • Presents stronger language on the 5 second rule: activate for 5 seconds and then evaluate the situation
  • New emphasis on multiple applications and drive stun:
    • No one should receive a combined application of longer than 15 seconds
    • Do not use the drive stun mode for pain compliance
  • There is a discussion of legal responsibilities and cases.
  • Discussion is included on the TASER International, Inc. Bulletin 15.0 – where they recommend the use of ECWs away from the chest.
  • A revised glossary is included.

With these revised guidelines, it is not only crucial to consider the most appropriate and effective approach for the use of ECWs in your agency, but now it’s easier. Also, the guidlelines stress that communication skills and de-escalation training are still fundamental for ECW training to ensure that the appropriate tool is being used.

For more information on the 2011 Electronic Control Weapon Guidelines, please refer to http://cops.usdoj.gov/RIC/ResourceDetail.aspx?RID=603.

For more information on the 2005 guidelines: http://cops.usdoj.gov/RIC/ResourceDetail.aspx?RID=379
To learn about the Police Executive Research Forum, please refer to http://www.policeforum.org/

Police Executive Research Forum. 2011. 2011 Electronic Control Weapon Guidelines. Washington, D.C.: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, http://cops.usdoj.gov/RIC/ResourceDetail.aspx?RID=603.

Nazmia Alqadi
The COPS Office

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