SAN ANTONIO – In 2016, Bexar County Deputies used their Taser weapons 67 times while detention officers deployed their Tasers 57 times inside the county jail.
Through October of this year, deputies on the streets have used their Tasers 61 times while detention officers used theirs 29 times, according to numbers provided by the Bexar County Sheriff's office.
Before deputies are allowed to carry a Taser, they must complete a daylong training class that involves time spent in a classroom and time spent going through a variety of scenarios that tests the deputies skills and decision making. Each deputy authorized to carry a Taser on duty must complete the same course every year.
As part of the certification class, several deputies volunteer to feel the effects of the weapon.
"We encourage them to take a voluntary exposure so that way they can know what it feels like," said Deputy George Barrera Jr., an instructor at BCSO's training academy. "So that they know exactly what they're doing to the person that they're applying it on as well."
At a recent training class, five deputies volunteered to be shocked as their fellow deputies looked on. When the weapon is used correctly, it creates what's known as neuromuscular incapacitation, or NMI. The electricity causes a person's body to stiffen for the five-second duration of the charge.
Deputies call it "taking a ride."
"He can't move but you and I can move him freely," Barrera said, as a deputy was being shocked. "So what that means is when they're taking the ride and they're under power, you and I can apply cuffs while he's taking the ride. There will be no resistance on their part because they are fighting within themselves. Notice how he's stiff as a board, that is full NMI, he's taking a ride. Once it's over, the NMI is finished and his body goes limp."
The deputies in training look on as their fellow classmates are shocked in a variety of ways; some standing, some while lying on the ground.
They also see what happens when one of the probes fired from the weapon misses its mark. When that happens, the Taser user must move closer to the subject and make contact with the weapon on the subject's body to obtain NMI, which is known as drive stun mode.
"Notice, I didn't do it flush on his body. I did it at an angle and I began to rock it," Berrera told the class. "As I began to rock it there was one point where he stiffened up and this Taser got very quiet. That's what you're looking for, a quiet pulsing and a stiffening of the body. That's NMI."
In addition to seeing the Taser used first hand, deputies also run through several scenarios where they must decide whether to use deadly force or less than lethal force. One of the scenarios involves clearing a home where a hostage is being held and two suspects are inside. The deputy shoots the suspect holding a knife on the hostage but resorts to his Taser when the other suspect, who is unarmed, refuses to comply with his orders.
"Taser is not a substitute for deadly force. So if they're displaying deadly force, we are not training our guys to respond with less than lethal force," Barrera said. "Let's say the person has a knife and they're running at you. That's not the ideal situation for a Taser deployment because if you decide to deploy and only one probe hits or you miss all together, now you're sitting with a Taser in your hand and a person assaulting you with a knife."
By going through the scenarios, deputies learn to quickly decide which weapon to draw and how to seamlessly switch from one to another. To avoid confusion and possibly grabbing the wrong weapon for the situation, deputies are taught to use their non-dominate hand when drawing the Taser.
"We try to make it innate for them. That any time they transition it becomes muscle memory and so as they transition, it's instant and it's introducing just a little bit of stress to elevate the heart rate because we will never rise to the occasion but rather we will always sink to our level of training," Barrera said.
While the Taser is classified as a 'less than lethal' weapon, they have been known to contribute to deaths on some suspects. While the maker of the weapon suggests users not deliver more than three 5 second shocks on a suspect, BCSO does not specify how many times a deputy should use the device but instead trains deputies to change tactics if it's not working.
"If you have a tool on your tool belt, or if you have something at your disposal, a less than lethal, and you use it, you use it once, twice, maybe three times, it's time to move onto something else," Barrera said. "In my experience, 75 percent of the time, just displaying it and arming it, not even using it, you'll gain compliance. As soon as they see the laser, as soon as they see the flashlight 75 percent will give up."
While it's not ideal for every situation, having a Taser at their disposal gives deputies another option to reach for.
"Taser has it's place in law enforcement but it has to be used at the right time and you have to have the right presence of mind. If you're missing any of those factors it might not be the best option," Barrera said. "At the end of the day every officer that uses them, they do try to use them to try to save the individuals life that they're using it on."