Consultant for writers on crime, police, & court procedures.

Thursday, June 5, 2014


“Don’t tase me, bro.”

That plea was made famous by a protesting college student caught on video during an arrest. It shows how familiar the American public is with these relatively new weapons.  The student in question even registered the phrase as a trademark to promote a book and line of t-shirts.

We get many questions about “stun guns” or “TASERS.”  The use of these weapons can provide a different twist to a story. But it’s confusing technology—I just read a novel by one of my favorite authors where a “stun gun” was used to render the victim unconscious. Doesn’t happen, folks. These devices are very painful but they do not shock you into unconsciousness.  Do your research.

Less-lethal weapons like the TASER are frequently used by law enforcement agencies to overcome suspect resistance. They have saved the lives of officers and suspects alike. Agencies equipped with TASERs have seen a significant decrease in officer and suspect injuries. I often convinced a combative suspect to surrender merely by shining the TASER’s red laser aiming dot on his chest.

TASER (all caps) is a trademarked brand name of a specific electronic control device (ECD).  The acronym stands for Thomas A. Swift Electric Rifle.  While it is the best known 

ECD, there are other brands. Some models are marketed only to law enforcement; others are available to civilians.

The TASER can be used in two modes. In the “probe mode,” a cartridge fitted to the TASER fires two barbs at the target. The barbs are connected by thin wires to the TASER to deliver the shock to incapacitate the suspect temporarily by introducing a pulsed current. The effective distance is about twenty feet although it’s possible to miss the target.

The TASER can also be used in a mode called "drive stun," in which the cartridge containing the barbs is removed and the device placed directly against the body to deliver the charge. 

Some models of ECDs contain a computer system that records the date, time, and duration of every use. 

When the TASER is fired, the cartridge releases dozens of confetti-sized identification tags. These Anti-Felon Identification Tags (AFIDs) are small serialized discs packed in each cartridge. The tiny tabs are colored pink, yellow, and even translucent. Sometimes they are collected as part of a crime scene examination.  One study indicated 75% of these tabs will be found within a 120 square foot area in the direction of fire. That’s about 12 feet in front of the shooter and about 5 feet on either side of the center-shooting line.  The tags show the general area where the TASER was deployed. In the drive stun mode, no ID tags are released because no cartridge is in use.

How can you incorporate an ECD into your story?  Use your imagination:

--an ECD may be a different way to inject some force/violence into your story

--there’s no guarantee the ECD will stop every suspect.  Two failed to stop Rodney King on that infamous vehicle stop.

--the shooter can miss.  Look out when that happens.

--shining that red aiming laser on aggressive people tends to turn many into pussy cats.

--the deployed ID tags identify the general location where the ECD was used; does it match your character’s version?

--the TASER logs the date, time, and duration of each use.  Does that match your character’s version?

--two sets of ID tags would show two cartridges were used.  Two different ECDs or one ECD deployed twice?

--remember, TASER is a trademarked brand name.  You may want to use the generic “stun gun” in writing.  While “tase” is used as a verb to denote the use of an ECD, you might be careful with its use as well.


  1. I'm thinking if a stun gun couldn't cause unconsciousness, it couldn't kill a person either? (Great blog btw.)

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    2. Lynn, some "anti-Taser" types have alleged they contributed to deaths but there's no real evidence of that. You can find all kinds of stories about people dying after being shocked but they also bodies full of cocaine and overexerted themselves fighting or running from the police. Tens of thousands of police officers have been shocked as part of their training without any ill effects. If you get high and get in a fight, you heart may not can take it. The Taser is not a factor.

    3. Thanks Wesley. Your statement matches what I've found researching. Sounds like there might be some scare tactics being used in the reporting.