Local Law Enforcement Officials Say Officers Are Trained to Avoid Deadly Mistakes
Controversy has erupted across the country after a police officer shot and killed a 20-year-old Black man, Daunte Wright, in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota.
Wright died after a Kim Potter, a 26-year veteran of the force, reportedly mistook her firearm for a taser in attempting to subdue him. Potter, who has resigned, has been charged with second-degree manslaughter.
The killing occurred just days before a jury found former Minneapolis Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd less than 13 miles away.
Spokespeople for the Summit County Sheriff’s Office and Park City Police Department say they work to avoid the mistake that is said to have ended Daunte Wright’s life.
Summit County Sheriff’s Lt. Andrew Wright (no relation to Daunte Wright) said that nationwide, instances of officers grabbing their gun rather than a taser in the heat of the moment don’t happen often. But their officers are trained and equipped to avoid fatal errors.
“One of the biggest things we do is to make sure that our tasers are completely opposite, so opposite side of where the deputy’s handgun would be located,” he said. “So if they’re right-handed, if their firearm would be on the right side of their hip, their taser has to be on the opposite side. And we consistently train to do what’s called a cross-draw. It’s unnatural, if you will, to reach across your body to grab the taser. And so it takes a lot more muscle memory, a lot more focus.”
An important element in training is to try to keep situations under control.
“It’s really working together as deputies,” Wright said. “When we are in incidents where we’re having to de-escalate a situation, really working together and making sure that there’s a lot of communication going on, not only between the deputies but with the person that we’re trying to de-escalate the situation.”
Park City Police Chief Wade Carpenter echoed the sentiment: if his officers draw their taser, they’re doing it with full intention.
“Part of the reason we wear external vest-holders, partly, is to get the weight off of the officer’s body, but also because we mount the taser in an upper position on the vest, that can’t be mistaken,” he said. “It’s actually in a cross-draw holster position. It’s not on the same side as the gun hand. So you would have to make an intentional effort to reach across your body and draw that taser.”
Carpenter, who is currently serving as the Vice-President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and heads up relevant committees within the organization, said it’s a major concern for law enforcement agencies.
“The conversations we’re having, nationally and internationally, are just this. What are the best practices,” he said. “What’s going wrong in some of these departments, training-wise, that this is happening. Are they looking at precautions like we’ve been taking. Do we need to look at other methods on the taser or similar tools that might have something that would preclude it, either by shape or some other sensor or something that might notify an officer under high stress that that in fact is the taser and not their handgun.”
He said officers face a lot of stress not knowing what they might face in even a seemingly routine call, referencing two recent shootings of police officers in Utah.
“You look at the tragedy that happened in both Provo recently, where the officer was shot three times on a fairly standard call,” he said. “And then we had the two officers, the two county deputies from Salt Lake County that were shot in the face, and that was dealing with a homeless person.”