High Voltage Intimidation: Local law enforcement agencies arm up with Tasers
A growing number of local law enforcement agencies are adding Tasers to their stockpile of nonlethal weapons, saying the electro-shock device reduces officer injury and violence.
Nearly six months ago, the Truckee Police Department received five Tasers to supplement the department’s existing two electronic control weapons, and have since used the Tasers on two occasions, said Truckee Police Detective Andrew Holbrook.
But it’s not the number of shocks that officers are finding beneficial, it’s the intimidation that comes with outfitting every on-duty officer with the device, Holbrook said.
“The Taser can end a fight without ever being deployed,” Holbrook said.
Case in point: A Sunday afternoon soccer game between two local teams at Truckee’s Riverview Park turned into a nearly 50-person brawl after a referee issued a red card penalty. That caused players and fans to rush the field, said Sgt. Jason Litchie.
Responding officers waded into the crowd, displayed and activated their Tasers, successfully diffusing the situation without actually applying the shock to anyone, Litchie said.
“When activated, the Taser makes a loud snapping and clicking noise. It’s very distinct and intimidating in a riot situation where people are not listening,” Litchie said. “In this particular situation, there was almost instantaneous compliance.”
The alternative to displaying the Taser at Sunday’s soccer squabble would have been pepper-ball guns, which is a powder form of pepper spray used to control riots by saturating an entire area with the chemical agent, Litchie said.
“The problem with pepper-ball guns is that the chemical lingers and officers can be affected too,” Litchie said. “With children and families around, that was definitely not the first choice.”
Other nonlethal weapons used to control combative criminals is the baton, which can result in multiple injuries to both the suspect and the officer, Litchie said.
“With the baton, the suspect often times has to go to the hospital and the officer ends up hurt also,” Litchie said. “The Tasers have really reduced officer injury and the suspects don’t get hurt either.”
The Placer County Sheriff’s Department and the California Highway Patrol have also added the stun guns to each department’s arsenal of less-than-lethal weapons, said Placer County Lt. Allan Carter.
“The Taser is one of the most important tools to come down the pipe of law enforcement,” Carter said.
The North Tahoe deputies received six Tasers in June and have employed the shock device during two different confrontations where a baton would have been used instead, Carter said.
“Rather than engage with the baton, the Taser immediately incapacitates a person without inflicting injury,” said Carter, who endured a Taser jolt while training with the nonlethal weapon.
The Taser transmits controlled pulses of electricity in various ranges at a speed of over 160 feet per second, and is designed to interrupt the motor impulses from the brain to suspend coordination without affecting the heart or other vital organs, Carter said.
The electro-shock device has been criticized in the past by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International who say the Taser shocks have contributed to a number of deaths throughout the country.
“Amnesty International believes that electro-shock weapons are inherently open to abuse,” a spokesperson for the organization said in a released statement in June. “U.S. police often use controlled electronic devices as a routine force option against individuals who do not pose a serious threat.”
However, if utilized in accordance with accepted national guidelines, the U.S. Department of Justice said “there is no conclusive medical evidence that indicates a high risk of serious injury or death from the direct effects of conducted energy devices.”
Underlying medical conditions may put individuals at higher risk for injury, so repeated and continued shock discharge by a law enforcement officer is not recommended, according to a Department of Justice study on deaths following a Taser shock.
Local law enforcement officers have undergone extensive training with the device and most have experienced the 5-second shockwave, Carter said.
“For the average, healthy adult, there’s no way this device can kill you,” Carter said. “If you’re against this device it’s because you’re not informed.”