Taser, on a roll, focuses on hospital use

Security directors mixed on deployment
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Friday, May 2, 2014

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—Taser International, coming off two banner sales years and “practically saturating” the law enforcement market, is focusing anew on hospitals.
The company’s stock price has risen nearly fivefold in the past two years, topping $20 earlier this month.

“That’s because we’re not a one-trick pony. We’ve become a tech company, and that’s what’s really gotten the attention of the market,” said Steve Tuttle, vice president of communications for the company, based here.
Some 17,000 U.S. law enforcement agencies are using Taser’s signature electroshock gun. Many also are outfitting personnel with Taser’s on-officer video cams, which provide accountability, Tuttle told Security Director News.

Next up for Taser is the health care sector, but some hospital security pros have mixed feelings about that.

The Carolinas Healthcare System [CHS] was an early adopter of Taser use for hospital security, said Bryan Warren, director of corporate security for CHS. It deployed Tasers at its facilities about nine years ago.
Warren, recent past president of the International Association for Hospital Security and Safety [IAHSS], is responsible for physical security at more than 900 locations across North Carolina and South Carolina.

“We are one of the largest health care facilities who have used Taser for the longest amount of time,” Warren told SDN.

Tasers allow his non-sworn officers to stop aggressive subjects without injuring them, without introducing firearms into an emergency room or behavioral environment and without causing collateral damage, he said.

“It is an effective, less-than-lethal, ranged method to stop a focused aggressor without causing harm,” he said.

CHS has developed its own Taser training curriculum.

Tasers are fired about six times per year on average at CHS, Warren said, but even the threat of a Taser being drawn by a security guard is often enough of a preventative measure to quell violence on his premises, he said, and “that’s fantastic.”

Unlike firearms, Tasers don’t pose a threat to innocent visitors and staff in the vicinity of an out-of-control patient who might be high on drugs or intoxicated, Warren said.

“It all boils down to how the tool is used. If you have good, strong procedures like the Carolinas have” Taser-equipped hospital security staffs can do better at managing violence, he said.

Other hospitals may equip their security staffs with batons or chemical solutions, such as pepper spray. “But I can do far more damage with a metal baton against someone’s head and neck,” including breaking bones, he said. Taser, meanwhile, “paralyzes a victim and gives me a window of opportunity” to secure the area, he said.

CHS strictly follows Taser protocols set by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Warren said.

Those protocols state that any use of a weapon, including Tasers, “as allowed by hospital policy and state and federal law … is considered a law enforcement action, not a health care intervention. … If a weapon is used by security or law enforcement personnel on a person in a hospital … to protect people or hospital property from harm, we would expect the situation to be handled as a criminal activity and the perpetrator to be placed in the custody of local law enforcement.”

Several hundred hospitals are now deploying Tasers for security, Tuttle said, with others wanting to come on board.
Still, some hospitals say the Taser is not for them.

State statutes dictate whether security guards, such as those at hospitals, may legally use Tasers. Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts, for example, ban their use by guards.
Regardless, some hospital security professionals in those states said they wouldn’t want Tasers in their hospitals even if they were legally allowed.

Training is a concern.

Rose M. Miller, director of protective services for the MedStar Washington [D.C.] Hospital, told SDN she is not in favor of using Tasers in hospitals “where there is a high risk if the officer does not have knowledge of the person’s health condition.”

“Our officers use their verbal communication skills to defuse most situations,” Miller said. They are armed with pepper spray and ASP batons as well as 9mm pistols. “Certainly, the fact that our [security] officers have non-lethal and lethal weapons is a deterrent,” she said.

MedStar’s chief of police agrees. “Because of the close proximity of patients, staff and visitors, Tasers may not be a good option in a hospital environment due to the high risk of accidental tasing of patients, staff and visitors,” said Lawrence Harrington.

Harrington noted that the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department prohibits officers from carrying or using Tasers unless they are assigned to the SWAT team

At the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Ralph Nerette, manager, security services, says he believes the Taser option can be avoided.

“Our approach is strength in numbers. If a situation arises that would require such force application, we would bring in the appropriate police for that jurisdiction because they maintain the requisite training in order to avoid liability issues,” Nerette said.

“There is a place for Tasers in a hospital environment but their actual use would be so infrequent, I’m not sure the ROI is there,” he said.