'Always be cognizant:' Trumbull trainer officer talks Taser use

From left, Trumbull police officers Tim Fedor, Kelly Brown, Theresa Massa and Emily Gisvold on Aug. 16, 2019. The yellow Tasers are visible on the left side of Massa and Gisvold's belts. The officers' duty pistols are holstered on the right.

From left, Trumbull police officers Tim Fedor, Kelly Brown, Theresa Massa and Emily Gisvold on Aug. 16, 2019. The yellow Tasers are visible on the left side of Massa and Gisvold’s belts. The officers’ duty pistols are holstered on the right.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

TRUMBULL — Police Lt. Brian Falkenstein is reluctant to comment on the split-second decisions of other officers, particularly based on a few moments of body camera video.

So when he saw video of Daunte Wright shot and killed by a Minnesota police officer who said she meant to use her Taser stun gun but instead drew and fired her pistol, Falkenstein’s dedication to training increased.

“It’s a good thing to discuss, that we train to always be cognizant of these types of situations,” he said.

Falkenstein, a 13-year veteran of the Trumbull Police Department, is a field training officer who recently certified the department’s two newest officers in the use of the Taser, and conducted refresher training for the veteran officers last month. New officers receive up to eight hours of training with the device, and once certified must take a two-hour refresher course every two years.

Falkenstein said department policy, and the devices themselves, are designed to make it more difficult for an officer to mistake their Taser for their gun.

“One difference that was just implemented recently is that all Tasers are bright yellow to help differentiate them,” he said.

In addition, Trumbull policy is for the Taser to be worn cross-draw style, on the officer’s “off” hand. For a right-handed officer, that means their gun is on the right side, the Taser on the left.

Although the Taser, which shoots a pair of darts attached to wires that deliver a low-current shock to disrupt voluntary muscle response, has been in the news, Police Commission Chairman Ray Baldwin said the devices are much safer than what he carried while on the force.

“We had the hand-held stun guns that worked by contact,” he said. “So you had to make contact with the person to use it, and they could try to take it away from you, or in a scuffle it gets knocked out of your hands.”

Though Baldwin said the older contact stun guns were flawed in several ways, a momentary contact with a person’s leg or body would cause a person to drop. Once contact was broken, the person would quickly recover.

Falkenstein said his experience has been similar. As a training officer, he has experience in being stunned with a Taser and also being pepper sprayed. He has a definite opinion which is worse.

“If I had to choose, 100 times out of 100 I would choose to be Tased rather than being pepper sprayed,” he said.

While the jolt from a Taser is unpleasant, Falkenstein said, it only lasts about five seconds. The burning effect of pepper spray, which irritates the eyes, nose, throat and lungs, can last up to 30 minutes.

“The idea is to incapacitate the person just long enough to take them into custody,” Falkenstein said.

As for exactly when an officer should use their Taser, Falkenstein said it varied depending on the situation and the officer.

The 6-foot-1, 225-lb Falkenstein, a nine-year U.S. Marine Corps veteran and one of the department’s leading proponents of full-body strength training, said that it might be unnecessary for him to deliver a shock to a resistant suspect. But if a different officer were in the same situation with the same suspect, safety might dictate that they use their Taser, he said.

“And you also have to take into account the severity of the crime that may have been committed,” he said. “You get a kid that shoplifted something worth $10? Don’t Tase them.”