Blogger’s Note: The following is my first-hand account of a Taser in use by two officers in the Bremerton Police Department, as I’d blogged earlier. Feel free to comment on what you think of the weapon at the end.
I was riding along with Bremerton Police’s morning shift last Thursday when we got a 911 call from an assisted living home in East Bremerton for a man claiming he was “talking to God” on his balcony.
Little did I know that the call would provide a first-hand look at a new tool that most officers I’ve talked to claim is the most effective one added to law enforcement in years.
I followed Bremerton Officer Jeff Inklebarger and Sergeant Wendy Davis up to the second floor of the home and we entered the apartment. Inside, a woman informed us her husband was “very angry” and shouting out on the balcony. She said he was schizophrenic, and hadn’t taken his medication.
(Note: Some of you might recognize this as a Code 911 story from last Friday’s edition. Click here to read it.)
When the two officers approached the man, he became enraged. They asked him questions, and the only utterance he mustered was that he was angry. They told him to come inside, as he was scaring not only his wife, but disturbing the entire complex’s population.
He wouldn’t come inside, and when officers tried to coax him in with a hand on his shoulder, he reacted violently, and pushed Sergeant Davis and Officer Inklebarger away. He then said he was going to jump off the balcony before again attempting to hit the officers.
Davis made the call: deploy the Taser.
Inklebarger, who hadn’t yet used the weapon, deployed his and it struck the man, but it failed to operate. So Davis pulled hers and hit him in the leg. The man, confused by the contraption, instantly yelped, fell to the balcony floor, and was cuffed.
Once back on his feet, he was more coherent, agreeable and very apologetic to officers. He was taken for a mental evaluation and didn’t cause any issues for aid or hospital staff.
So what exactly is this strange, gun-like device?
According to Wikipedia, the Taser uses a “temporary high-voltage, low-current to override the body’s superficial muscle-triggering mechanisms.” Two small metal probes called “darts” — each a few milimeters in length — puncture the skin and an electrical current, when activated by officers, causes temporary pain and spasms of the muscles. Generally, after being “Tased” (though we haven’t established here yet whether it’s officially “Tased” or “Tasered”), they drop, and their limbs begin to resemble that of plywood.
(To read more on the Taser, click here.)
Officer Inklebarger’s Taser failed to work because both “darts” failed to go into the man’s skin due to a loose jacket he was wearing. Davis, a Taser instructor, shot the probes into his leg, where jeans provided a solid entry.
Three seconds of eight AA-battery powered “Tasing” (or again, perhaps it’s “Tasering”) will drop most people to the ground and “completely disorient” them, Wikipedia said.
Proponents say that the Taser provides a non-lethal approach to criminal law enforcement, giving police a tool that is less violent to both officer and suspect and far less harmful than a gun.
For instance, instead of fighting the schizophrenic man, risking injury to him and the officers, he was quickly incapacitated by the Taser. Plus, unlike after a fight to apprehend a suspect, he became immediately complaint, and was so all the way to the hospital.
The company that produces it, Taser International, claims the tool has saved more than 9,000 lives since its inception. More than 8,600 police departments nationwide now use it, their web site also reports.
To see videos of the Taser in action and read about the company, click here.
However, there is opposition to the weapon. The state of New Jersey, though the only one in the country, has banned it. Both Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union have concerns that the weapon could be used as a torture device. Wikipedia reports that between September 1999 and October 2004, there were 73 cases in which suspects died following a Tasering (But only 8 of those cases were ruled by medical examiners to have been a contributing factor in the death and far more were connected to drugs, such as methamphetamine).
A useful tool or a hazardous device? Weigh in if you’d like.