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Fear of TASERs limits cops' need to use

"Don't Tase me, bro," might be a passe catchphrase. But the YouTube video that spawned it along with a bevy of other stun gun filming has sparked fear in suspects

By Angela Brandt
The Montana Standard

BUTTE, Mont.  "Don't Tase me, bro," might be a passe catchphrase. But the YouTube video that spawned it along with a bevy of other stun gun filming has sparked fear.

Butte police say the suspects are more knowledgeable on the detrimental effects of Tasers and that has lessened the need to actually deploy the electrified harpoons.

"Sometimes just un-holstering is enough," Lt. Mark St. Pierre explained.

"Some comply just hearing the plastic," he said, demonstrating the intimidating sound of the weapon being removed from its holder.

In addition, police are increasing training and education regarding Tasers and that has decreased the number of stuns or "rides" as officers refer to them.

This year so far no one has been Tased by police in Butte, Undersheriff George Skuletich said.

"They keep going down every year," he said, adding that when local officers first were armed with the stun guns a decade ago they used them much more frequently.

The number dropped from six deployments in 2012 to two in 2013, Skuletich said.

This week officers are getting a refresher course on the protocol of using their Tasers and if deemed needed, the best ways to use the weapons.

Tasers are moving from a readily used tool for apprehension to more of a self-defense option when dealing with violent situations, Skuletich said.

Pepper spray, another commonplace law enforcement tool, has been phased out locally due to officers getting overtaken by the substance as well

On Tuesday afternoon, police reenacted an actual call that ended with a suspect being Tased as part of the training. The scenario was a traffic stop after someone ran a red light. Two occupants were in the vehicle and one of them was attempting to run because he had a warrant. The lesson to take was to focus on the driver, who was aggressive and approaching each officer.

Sheriff Ed Lester explained after participating in the scenario that the protocol is to deal with the "immediate threat." After each reenactment, in which two officers acted as suspects and were shot with dummy rounds, trainer St. Pierre and the officers would review the response. One issue was letting the suspects get too close while exhibiting aggression.

Training in this way encourages officers to think about how they would react in the situation and makes the situation safer for everyone involved, Lester said.

He also agreed that the majority of times actually stunning the offender isn't necessary and many suspects will obey orders "when they see that red dot on their chest."

Copyright 2014 The Montana Standard

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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