Law officers back use of stun guns

Published 5:00 am Monday, August 27, 2007

With a national controversy swirling around the use of Taserstun guns as a non-lethal method of controlling and apprehendingsubjects who resist or evade police, some local law enforcementagencies are standing behind the weapons as a valuable tool.

Monticello police officers carry them, and Police Chief DavidStanley said Tasers offer an alternative to pulling a gun on asubject who is threatening an officer’s well-being.

“I’m very much comfortable with them using it as a means toeffect an arrest if someone is resisting,” he said. “It provides(officers) with another less-lethal option.”

Mississippi Highway Patrol Public Affairs Officer Sgt. RustyBoyd said most troopers in Troop M carry the weapons, as do mostMHP troopers across the state.

“I’d say about 75 percent of us have them,” he said. “It’s notvery often that we have to use them. You start with the minimumamount of force needed to subdue an individual, and you have toaccelerate to whatever point gets the job done.”

Stanley said Tasers can be not only life-saving to the person itis used on, but to an officer as well.

“We incorporate it in use of force if it falls in the guidelineswith our use-of-force policy,” he said. “I have officers who workby themselves and I’m trying to add something else to aid them intheir safety as well as the safety of city we protect. We use21-foot cartridges so you can use it at a farther distance.”

The distance allows the officer not to have to get into ahand-to-hand situation with a subject.

While across the country there have been incidents of deaths ofpeople after being shot by a Taser, the death of a 21-year-old manin Jackson has raised the Taser debate in Mississippi. Hinds CountyCoroner Sharon Grisham-Stewart told The Clarion-Ledger, though,that the man had a preexisting medical condition before he diedafter being shocked by Jackson police.

Anti-Taser groups contend the phrase “non-lethal” is inaccurate.Taser supporters point out to preexisting conditions in people whohave died after a stun gun shock.

An Amnesty International study shows around 230 people have diedin incidents involving Taser shock since 2001, averaging around 32people per year. In comparision, a National Oceanic and AtmosphericAdministration technical memorandum said an average of 90 peopleare killed by lightning each year in the United States.

“I’d actually think that the amount of the times that they’vebeen used across the country and you only hear of a few like theone in Jackson, it probably doesn’t happen as much as you think itdoes,” said Boyd.

Another factor many officials point out is that different humanbodies react uniquely to different stimuli.

“It affects some people in different ways,” Boyd said of thestun guns. “Just like pepper spray doesn’t affect some people atall, and some it does more than others.”

Amnesty International also reports around 100 deaths attributedto the use of pepper spray since the 1990s.

Officials who speak in favor of the weapons point out that lawenforcement officials who get certified to use Tasers mustthemselves take a shot from them. That alone puts the numbers ofpeople who take Taser shocks every year in the tens of thousandsbefore they’re even applied to suspects.

Officers who carry stun guns say while taking the shock duringthe Taser certification is no laughing matter, the added protectionthey offer makes the experience worthwhile.

“I’d go through it all again to carry it,” said MonticelloPolice Officer Christian Davis. “It’s well worth it. It’s the nextbest thing to lethal force when you need to use a weapon.”

The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department does not currently useTasers, although Sheriff Steve Rushing said he can see the benefitof using them.

“At this point we don’t use them, but I do think it can be aneffective tool in prevention of injury to an officer or citizen,”he said. “I think it can also be a means of self-defense for anofficer as well.”

Brookhaven Police Chief Pap Henderson, however, takes a moretraditional stance on the weapons.

“You notice I don’t have any,” he said about his department.”I’d need to get more education on it before I’d feel comfortablebringing those into the department. I can also think of severalother things we need first that I’d rather buy.”