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Deputies add new weapon to arsenal

County law enforcement officials say they’re looking forward toa new year with the help of new technology after having installedanother measure to insure the safety of not only local officers,but local offenders as well.

Full-time deputies at the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Departmentare now carrying Taser stun guns, making them the last sheriff’sdepartment in the area to put the additional safety measure intoplace.

Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing said his deputies oftenhave to handle calls when backup isn’t immediately available. Inthose instances, a Taser can be a crucial safety measure.

“We’ve been working on getting these for a year now,” saidRushing. “Our officers are handling calls by themselves a lot oftimes, and this is a really good alternative to other measures offorce.”

Other measures, such as hand-to-hand restraint, pepper spray,and even gunfire have been known to fail on occasion as subjectswho are on under certain mental delusions or on certain kinds ofdrugs can be hard to corral because they don’t know their ownstrength.

Capt. Dustin Bairfield, who has been conducting the Tasertraining classes for the officers, said the weapons are incrediblyeffective no matter what the state of the recipient.

“They’re 99.9 percent effective,” he said. “They work even whenyour subject is drugged up, hampered by delusions, orwhatever.”

Bairfield said the Tasers work because the impulse put out bythe device is the same frequency as nerves in the human body uses.In effect, what a Taser does is confuse the nervous system becausethe brain cannot interpret any information delivered by theimpulse, he said.

“The Taser is a great asset because there are no injuries and nolong-lasting effects, not to mention that it’s another tool thedepartment has to make an arrest without using deadly force,”Bairfield said.

A Taser packs an electrical shock equal to 50,000 volts, whichsounds frightening until compared to other everyday shocks,Bairfield said.

“Static electricity is 30,000 volts,” he said. “But the amps arewhat gets you.”

According to the training materials issued by the Taser company,its stun gun shocks are .0021 of an ampere. Comparatively speaking,though, a Christmas tree lightbulb is one amp.

As a part of the training, each deputy that will be carrying aTaser must take a shock from it so they’re aware of what they’redealing with, officials said. Officers said while the sensation isnot a pleasant one by any means, it was definitely better thansustaining a gunshot wound.

“The worst part is the mental part, trying to psych yourself upto take it,” said Deputy Charles Ralph Smith. “It’s definitely anintense electrical shock.”

Bairfield said he has Tased more than 20 people in training thedeputies at the LCSO. He is confident enough in the safety of theweapon that he has frequently even shocked himself as part of thetraining demonstrations.

Deputy Jason Hawkins said he feels he can use a Taser withconfidence if need be, as he knows it doesn’t cause long-termdamage.

“It’s such a useful tool, and it’s much safer than measures thatcould potentially take lives,” Hawkins said.

Rushing said the first round of Tasers were bought out of thedepartment’s budget. As he adds to the inventory in the future, heis looking for grants so further equipping his officers will notcost the county any additional money.

“We want to save the county’s money if we can, and we definitelywant to provide the best protection for the people,” he said.

In the time that the Sheriff’s Department has had the Tasers,deputies have not had to use them often, Rushing said.

“We really haven’t used them a whole lot, and they’re a gooddeterrent on top of that,” he said. “People see them and it detersthem from causing further trouble.”

In addition, Rushing said, the department has a policy about useof force that informs officers of the steps they’re required tofollow before taking any action beyond a verbal warning. Thetraining sessions, he said, are to increase their understanding andcomfort with the weapons.

“One of the things I definitely want to do is make sure ourofficers learn to be proficient with them,” he said.

In recent years, groups such as Amnesty International havespoken out against Tasers, pointing to rare occasions where peoplehave died after being shocked while being apprehended.

An Amnesty International study showed around 230 people havedied in incidents involving Taser shock since 2001, averagingaround 32 people per year out of thousands who are Tased across thecountry in training classes as well as on the streets. In addition,almost every case involving a death was able to be traced back to aperson’s preexisting condition, Taser officials said.

Rushing said he made sure to do his research beforeincorporating the Tasers into his inventory, but that he feels it’sa positive step in the right direction.

“We’re one of the last around here to go to them,” he said. “Allthe state law enforcement agencies are using them, such as theHighway Patrol and the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics. I’m gladwe’ve made this step.”