How could a police officer mistake their weapon for a Taser?

Former UCPD chief, local law enforcement expert, weighs in
Posted at 11:16 PM, Apr 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-15 12:05:16-04

On Sunday, Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, police officer Kim Potter fatally shot 20-year-old Daunte Wright in his car during a traffic stop prompted by expired tags.

Potter, who was charged with manslaughter after she resigned from the police department, told investigators she mistook her firearm for her stun gun, according to Police Chief Tim Gannon, who has also resigned. In the days since Wright's death, hundreds in Minnesota have protested at police headquarters.

In the midst of an emotional firestorm, many in Brooklyn Center and across the country are left wondering: How could a veteran officer mistake her gun for her Taser?

The Brooklyn Center Police Department policy manual says officers are trained to carry their gun and Taser on opposite sides, though the police chief clarified that officers determine the placement.

Former UC police chief Gene Ferrara said since they were introduced in Cincinnati in the early 2000s, Tasers for local law enforcement have been placed on the opposite side of the body as a service weapon. While Ferrara is not familiar with the details of the Brooklyn Center case, he has trained local police officers for 48 years.

“When I started all those years ago, it was pretty simple: You had a sidearm, handcuffs, extra ammunition pouch, and pretty much that was it,” he said.

Since then, pepper spray and stun guns are among the things members of law enforcement are now responsible for, but many departments have safeguards in place to keep mistakes from happening.

“Number one, you have to cross-draw to get to the Taser, which kind of would be an indicator that, 'Oh, this is different,'" Ferrara explained.

That difference in feel is evident in a controlled environment, he said.

“In the calm coolness of qualification, that distinction would be noticeable. In the heat of battle, under fire, so to speak, you may not make that same distinction quite so easily,” he said.

Local departments are familiarized at least once a year with firearm placement as a part of continued training, Ferrarra said. But what happened in Minnesota is enough to put agencies across the country on notice.

“I'm going to guess that the vast majority of departments are going to step back and look back at their own procedures and training. ‘Are we sufficient? Could this happen here, too?’"