Archive for Thursday, June 30, 2005

Tasers add shock value to Police Department’s arsenal

June 30, 2005

For a year now, each Lansing police officer has carried a crime-fighting weapon that many say beats pepper spray and batons as a preliminary use of force before resorting to guns.

That weapon is the Taser, a pistol that fires two small darts connected to wires that deliver a low-current, 50,000-volt charge to the target. The model used by the Lansing Police Department can fire up to 21 feet. The Taser also may be used at close range with two contacts on the front of the gun's "barrel." The shock (the charge is controlled by the user for a maximum burst of five seconds) disrupts the subject's muscular and nervous systems by confusing the electrical impulses between the two.

The weapon was used earlier this month by a Lansing police officer on a 38-year-old Leavenworth man when he resisted arrest. It's also been used in about nine other instances since the department began using Tasers.

"It's a useful tool," Chief Steve Wayman said. Wayman categorizes the Taser in the department's "use-of-force continuum" policy with pepper spray and batons. But it's superior to both, Wayman said.

"Pepper spray requires decontamination" of the area, the suspect, and the officers involved, Wayman said.

Video

Two Current reporters, Chris Wristen and Jesse Truesdale, volunteered to be tasered for this story. Lansing Police Officer Robin Mock, who trains Lansing officers to use Tasers, happily obliged. Because firing the darts requires expending a $24 one-use cartridge, officers instead taped the electrodes to the reporters' clothes. Mock gave Truesdale a half-second charge and Wristen a jolt that lasted just over a second. When Truesdale got his half-seond shock, he reported that his gut clenched and his left leg kicked up involuntarily as two officers held him in case he fell. "It felt like the shock from electrical cord prongs, but instead of one finger, the shock spanned between the darts on my stomach and shoulder," he said. Neither said they noticed no discomfort afterward, nor any discoloration of the skin. Enlarge video

With batons, Wayman said, "you're really restricted. Officers have to be constantly retrained." That's because batons may only be used on the "meaty" parts of the body, such as the thighs. Otherwise, they can cause serious injury, Wayman said.

Officer Robin Mock, who is responsible for training Lansing officers in the use of Tasers, said another advantage Tasers enjoy was that "batons always leave residual injury," while Tasers generally cause no injury and leave at most a temporary discoloration of the skin at contact points.

Another advantage of the Taser is that it records the time, date and number of uses. This feature may protect officers and the department from faulty claims of abuse, as well as ensure accountability of the weapon's use.

While some deaths in the United States have been related to Taser use by police, all of those are attributable to drug use or pre-existing medical conditions such as heart trouble, Wayman said. Many of the former cases happened when the subjects were high on cocaine.

Wayman said the issue facing some police departments in the country for criticism of their officers too quickly resorting to the Taser is avoidable through proper training.

Mock said that the training for the Tasers lasts a day, and each officer is tasered as part of that training.

No complaints or lawsuits have arisen from Taser use by Lansing Police, Mock said.

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