Credit: Axon Corporation

The Louisville Metro Police Department is poised to complete a quiet upgrade of the Tasers its officers carry.

As of May 2018, 1,051 LMPD officers have been outfitted with the X2 Taser “conducted electrical weapon,” or CEW, manufactured by Arizona-based Axon — formerly TASER International — according to information provided by the police department.

The switch has nearly phased out the force’s current X26 Taser, the most widely popular CEW by far with U.S. law enforcement agencies, and Axon’s best-selling product to date. The company also produces the “flex” body cameras worn by LMPD officers.

The upgrade has cost slightly over $1.8 million, based on an analysis of individual unit cost data provided by the LMPD to Insider Louisville. That figure includes over $1.2 million for Tasers, as well as $600,000 for new batteries, holsters, probe cartridges and per-unit four-year warranties.

The switch is occurring at a time when many police departments across the country have or are conducting a similar transition away from Axon’s discontinued flagship X26 model. The X26 has generated concern about its lethality despite the Taser’s status as a “nonlethal weapon.” In 2007, the United Nations declared Tasers to be a form of “torture.”

The X26 Taser debuted in 2003, and its X26E variant has been used by the LMPD since 2004. On Dec. 31, 2014, Axon ceased production of the X26, and beginning this year the company ceased producing X26 batteries, prompting the need for upgrades to newer models, like the X2, introduced in 2011.

LMPD spokesman Dwight Mitchell describes the Taser as a component of the force’s Crisis Intervention Training, which specializes in law enforcement conduct with mentally ill individuals. He said that officers are required to take a four-hour training class mandated by Axon before they are cleared to carry the X2 Taser.

Mitchell said that officers are still adapting to the new weapon.

“With any change it takes time to adjust,” Mitchell said in an email. “The [X2] grip is shorter compared to the X26 due to the fact that an additional cartridge is not attached to the bottom of the battery. But this is a bonus since both cartridges are already inserted into the CEW and ready for deployment, which doesn’t cause for a reload.”

“The main complaint that we get from the officers is the X2 is bulkier than the X26E,” he said.

The X2 Taser allows for two fires without a reload, meaning officers have a “second chance” shot or can fire upon two targets in rapid succession, shocking them almost simultaneously.

Both models have a range of approximately 35 feet, yet the X2 carries about half the charge — 72 microcoulumbs, a unit of electrical measurement — of its predecessor along two “probe” darts. The darts conduct an electrical current that attempts to find the path of least resistance between the two probes — the “path” usually in the form of a human, resulting in muscle seizure and incapacitation.

A report by the United Kingdom’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Medical Implications of Less-Lethal Weapons acknowledged that while the X2 satisfies public health concerns over decreased lethality compared to the X26E, the benefit of such a reduced shock is double-edged.

In the October 2016 report, the committee found that such a reduction in delivered charge “may lead officers to use alternative, potentially more injurious, forms of force or increase the frequency of deployment of the second cartridge bay. The latter may lead to an increase in the frequency of probe-associated injuries to the skin and underlying organs and tissues, as well as enhancing the risk of fall-associated injuries.”

A 2017 multipart investigation by Reuters found that 1,005 Americans have died after being shocked with a CEW (most involving the X26), with 153 of those deaths directly attributable to CEWs.

“Nearly all those deaths occurred since 2000 when Tasers began gaining popularity with U.S. police,” the news agency reported. “A majority of the deaths involved other types of force such as batons or pepper spray.”

The X2 upgrade has been in the works at least as far back as the summer of 2017; Mitchell said the department had initially planned to have all officers trained and in compliance with the X2 by August 2017. According to LMPD figures, 126 officers are still using the discontinued X26E.

In the 2018 fiscal year, LMPD purchased 111 X2s.

Homeland Security funds to cover remaining Taser upgrades

To cover the cost of the remaining 126 X2 Tasers, the LMPD will use money provided by a Kentucky Office of Homeland Security fund.

Over $20,000 worth of grant money will furnish more X2 Tasers and related-equipment to help finish the replacement effort, according to an application on file with Louisville Metro Government to the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security’s Law Enforcement Protection Program.

The pending grant application rides on the back of a proposed resolution sponsored by Metro Councilwoman Jessica Green, D-1, that would authorize Mayor Greg Fischer to use $20,218 out of an apparent $238,813 “total project amount.” The metro grant accountant Shannon Elble, who is listed on the application as “designated project manager,” declined to comment.

The money in KOHS Law Enforcement Protection Program funds would be used by LMPD to acquire the remaining X2 Tasers.

When asked for comment, Louisville Metro Democratic Caucus spokesman Tony Hyatt relayed that Green was unaware of the application’s details, and that the Metro Council is expected to move on the bill during Thursday night’s meeting for discussion in the Public Safety Committee.

“It is standard practice that the Chairs of various Committees end up being sponsors on resolutions and grants like this,” Hyatt said. Green chairs the Metro Council’s Public Safety Committee.

State law permits the LEPP to receive money from public auction firearms confiscated by the Kentucky State Police to augment police equipment budgets.

“In awarding these grants, KOHS gives first priority to providing and replacing body armor and second priority to providing firearms and ammunition, with residual funds available for the purchase of electronic-control weapons or electronic-muscular disruption technology and body-worn cameras,” the office’s website says.

Mike Sunseri, director of the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security, declined to discuss pending applications as a matter of policy. 

According to the KOHS website, the LEPP fund has disbursed $178,440 to police agencies in Jefferson County since 2011, including $30,000 in Tasers to the University of Louisville. From 2011 to 2017, LEPP has awarded $3,427,011.77 in grant money to law enforcement agencies across Kentucky.

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Jonathan Meador
Jonathan Meador has covered local and state issues for nearly a decade. He has worked for LEO Weekly, The Nashville Scene and WFPL, and his reporting has appeared in Salon, Gambit and others. He has won multiple awards from the Louisville Society of Professional Journalists, including first-place accolades for best news story, women and minority issues, investigative reporting, enterprise reporting and political reporting. He supports both the Kentucky Wildcats and the Louisville Cardinals equally.