Here's a look at a device for police officers aimed at avoiding accidental shooting deaths

In two shootings more than a decade apart, police officers have said they confused their gun for their taser.

Melanie Woodrow Image
Tuesday, August 8, 2023
Device for police aimed at avoiding accidental shooting deaths
A law enforcement agency is testing a product that could help police officers with weapon confusion in possibly avoiding accidental shooting deaths.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Lethal vs. less lethal force can be a split-second decision for police and a rare mistake could have deadly consequences. That's why a Northern California Law Enforcement agency is testing out a new product that could could cut down on weapons confusion.

ABC7 News I-Team Reporter Melanie Woodrow spoke to a police officer who created "Primary Guard," a tool he believes could prevent accidental deaths.

In two shootings more than a decade apart, police officers have said they confused their gun for their taser.

"The 2021 incident with Daunte Wright we have to keep that important, we have to keep the incident that happened in 2009 with Oscar Grant, we have to keep that important," said Officer Joe Vegas.

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Vegas is a designated level 1 reserve police officer with the Winters Police Department.

"Weapon confusion is as tragic as it is complex," said Vegas.

Vegas created "Primary Guard," a device that attaches to an officer's taser restricting access to what's known as the primary or dominant side that an officer would use to fire his or her duty weapon.

"We believe we can reduce the likelihood of weapon confusion," said Vegas.

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Following the passage of AB1406, California law requires that a police officer's holster an electronic controlled device commonly called a taser on the opposite side of the body that the officer's primary firearm is holstered. This is usually referred to as the support side or non-dominant side. But not all departments practice a support side carry, support side draw for tasers.

"There's also many agencies that still and it's still authorized under California law to do what's called a cross draw," Winters Police Chief John Miller told ABC7 News.

"To where they cross over and they are still using the primary and dominant hand to deploy the taser the same hand they use to deploy or control the firearm," explained Vegas.

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Vegas says some officers will support side-draw their taser and pass it to their dominant hand, he believes also creating the possibility of weapon confusion and the added danger of having to drop the taser or pass it back to their non-dominant hand if they need to draw their firearm.

"What Primary Guard is aiming to do is create exclusively the holstering and the control with the non-dominant hand," said Vegas.

"We're going to field test it and I'm very proud that he engaged us to try the device out," said Miller.

"If Primary Guard is adopted by police officers and its used in a way that people agree does not interfere with the performance of their job then the question that I would have as a DA in reviewing any future use of force cases is why didn't you have it," said YOLO County District Attorney Jeff Reisig.

Vegas says if an officer's non-dominant hand were injured the officer could bypass Primary Guard.

"Primary guard can be bypassed by lifting it up there," demonstrated Vegas.

"We would absolutely love to encourage those agencies and those officers that are currently using their primary or their dominant hand to try Primary Guard."

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In an emailed statement to ABC7 News, Peace Officers Research Association of California President Brian R. Marvel wrote, "PORAC supported AB 1406 last year, requiring peace officers to holster tasers on the opposite side from their primary firearm. Proper taser training and use-of-force guidelines are crucial. PORAC sponsored SB 230 in 2019, creating uniform use-of-force guidelines statewide, including how to de-escalate situations using non-lethal options like tasers. We are open to new technologies if properly tested to ensure practical, real-world effectiveness."

Vegas says his idea stemmed from the training his dad gave him. Richmond Police Officer Gus Vegas was killed while off-duty when he intervened in a domestic dispute involving his daughter and grandson's father inside his Vallejo home.

"He impressed upon me the importance of training," said Vegas.

"I think he'd be proud," he continued.

Primary guard is $19.99 but Vegas says for now he's giving some departments the device for free to test out.

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