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Spokane Police Add Stun Guns to Arsenal

April 02, 2002
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Spokane Police Add Stun Guns to Arsenal

by John K. Wiley, Associated Press

SPOKANE (AP) - The Spokane Police Department will begin using electronic stun guns called Tasers to try to cut down on injuries stemming from methamphetamine arrests, Chief Roger Bragdon says.

Seattle police already use the devices, designed to subdue violent suspects with less-than-lethal force.

A sharp increase in methamphetamine abuse and suspects willing to duke it out with officers prompted the department's Taser order, Bragdon said Monday.

"One of the symptoms of methamphetamine use is violence," Bragdon told reporters. "We wanted to find ways to reduce injuries to officers and to reduce injuries to the people who are fighting us."

The department averages at least one such fight a week.

About 1,000 departments nationwide use the devices, which can shoot two barbed lines that deliver a 50,000 volt charge, temporarily incapacitating a person, Bragdon said.

Detective Randy Lesser, who heads the department's SWAT team, said the department has ordered 40 of the devices, which cost about $400 apiece. Eventually, all 130 patrol officers will carry them, Bragdon said.

The department is drawing up policies for when the Tasers can be used, the chief said.

Unlike earlier models, the stun guns are equipped with a computer chip that allows them to be downloaded to tell when and how many times they were used. The feature protects officers from abuse accusations, he said.

Charges which shoot the Taser darts - effective up to 21 feet - are serialized, so investigators can determine which officer fired the weapon, Lesser said.

The department also is studying where the devices, which look and weigh about the same as an officer's service weapon, will be worn, Bragdon said. Seattle officers wear them in holsters below their service revolvers.

The Tasers deliver a five-second jolt that interrupts signals from the brain to the muscles, preventing a person from being able to physically resist, Lesser said.

Officers who use the Taser will always be backed by an officer able to use a handgun, Bragdon said.

The weapons would not have prevented a rash of officer-involved shootings the department experienced in the past year, Bragdon said. "In all of those, the suspects already were shooting at us."

Part of the cost of the Tasers will come from federal money earmarked for efforts to fight the spread of methamphetamine, Bragdon said. The Spokane department is on track to bust more than 200 meth labs this year, he said.

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