Agencies to continue Taser use

By Aisha I. Jefferson

Clayton County Assistant Police Chief Jeff Turner has witnessed the effectiveness and the importance of using Tasers within his department at least once in the past year.

A man was found walking down Tara Boulevard with a large butcher knife to his throat, threatening to kill himself. Officers managed to contain the man, but gestures with the knife still managed to hurt officers as well as the individual.

While an officer's supervisor was called in to talk with the man unsuccessfully, he was able to shoot the man with a Taser, causing him to drop the knife.

"It ended the conflict peacefully with no serious injuries to him and no injuries to the officers," Turner said. "It was a peaceful resolution."

About half of law enforcement agencies in Clayton and Henry counties own Tasers, and recent scrutiny of the stun gun doesn't expect to alter both department's future use of it.

A Taser is a non-lethal weapon that disperses two probes up to 25 feet that attach to either clothing or skin, and incapacitate a subject with the use of high voltage/ low amperage energy for cycles of five second duration, according to TASER International spokesman Steve Tuttle.

"The officers can maintain control of the subject while keeping a safe distance, that's the main factor," Forest Park Police Capt. Chris Matson, whose department has used them since April 2003.

But electronic control weapons, such as Tasers, have been criticized in incidents where victims were injured falling to the ground, and suffered surface burns that may appear red or blister, according to the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police.

According to a training bulletin Taser International issued on June 28, "repeated, prolonged, and/or continuous exposure(s) to the Taser electrical discharge may cause strong muscle contractions that may impair breathing and respiration, particularly when the probes are placed across the chest or diaphragm."

The bulletin also gave other warnings associated with using Tasers. Its release follows much debate surrounding deaths related to Taser use while in police custody.

In response to much talk about the safety of using Tasers, the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police formed a committee of law enforcement professionals, academic advisers, attorneys and physicians last November to evaluate the use of the electronic control weapons by law enforcement in Georgia.

On June 20, the police chiefs committee released a 54-page report that supports the use of Tasers that stated, "the electronic control weapon, when used properly and in accordance with the law, is an appropriate tool for law enforcement because it prevents injuries to suspects, prisoners and law enforcement."

The committee's report recommends that law enforcement agencies have a policy in place before using electronic control weapons, train personnel on how to properly use them and require officers to report every time the weapons are used and the circumstances leading to the use.

Turner said his department calls paramedics to check those shocked with a Taser. The department owns 25 Tasers, none of which are carried by patrolmen.

Matson said Forest Park Police is reviewing all of the information that has come out on Tasers.

"We gather all possible information and are currently reviewing our existing policy to see if there are changes that need to be made," Matson said.

Locust Grove Police Chief Jesse Patton has purchased two Tasers yet in use, and the department is in the process of developing a usage policy within the next month. Afterwards three additional Tasers are expected to be purchased.

"The big thing with Tasers, as anything else, is that you have to have a policy in place," Patton said. "That's the key to the whole thing."

Patton has been through a certified training program for Tasers, and said he will have someone use a Taser on him during an upcoming training.

Henry County Police is the only other agency in Henry using Tasers. In Clayton County, they are used by Clayton County Police, the Clayton County Sheriff's Office and Forest Park and Jonesboro police departments. None of the law enforcement agencies reported any serious injuries that are Taser-related.

The six local agencies are among 217 law enforcement agencies that use TASER brand devices in Georgia, Tuttle said.

Tthere are more than 135,000 Taser brand devices deployed with law enforcement and military agencies, and more than100,000 Taser brand devices owned by private citizens but have different versions than law enforcement including shorter range limited to only 15 feet.

The Henry County Police currently has about 20 Tasers issued to certified personnel, according to Henry County Police Lt. Jason Bolton, who said the department started using Tasers last October.

"When used properly, Tasers are very effective tools that allow for the quick resolution to a potentially violent situation with minimal risk to the Officer and the suspect," Bolton said.

All of Henry County officers who are currently certified with Tasers are being retrained and re-certified with the device.

"We have always closely monitored our officers' use of the Taser," said Bolton. "Each time that an officer uses a Taser, a 'Use of Force' report is completed and reviewed by the entire command staff."

The police chiefs association said law enforcement agencies in Georgia have been using electronic control weapons in their current form since 1999, with Taser International being the manufacturer most commonly used.