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La. department to get TASERs

By Steven Ward
The Advocate

GONZALES, La. — Police Chief Bill Landry is hoping the mere sight of new Taser stun guns on the belts of his officers will prevent them from having to use the weapons.

"The street term for police officers with Tasers is 'electric police.' And once the word is out, statistics show it usually reduces the amount of injury for suspects and police officers," Landry said.

Gonzales spent $37,000 recently on Taser stun guns, manufactured by Taser International Inc., to outfit all 26 street patrol officers with the weapon in hopes of reducing injury to officers and suspects, Landry said.

Half of the city's 26 officers are wearing the stun guns on their belts. They completed Taser training Jan. 15 and started wearing the devices Jan. 16, Landry said.

The other 13 officers will be trained Jan. 31 and will start wearing the weapons Feb. 1.

"So far, we have not had to use them," Landry said.

The officers are trained to use the devices by Gonzales police Detective Steve Nethken, the department's firearm instructor.

Nethken became a certified Taser instructor after undergoing two days of training by Taser International Inc.

The police officers underwent 10 hours of training by Nethken before they were able to wear the weapons.

Landry and Nethken said they studied the Taser concept for two years and looked at other neighboring agencies that use them before making a decision.

Taser stun guns and other stun guns are already utilized by the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office, the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office, the Baton Rouge Police Department and the Sorrento Police Department.

"My goal is to reduce injury. When I saw the escalating resistance from suspects during arrest attempts and I saw that more police officers were having to fight and wrestle with suspects and those officers ended up at the hospital, I knew we had to do something," Nethken said.

There are critics around the country who want to ban the use of Taser stun guns and other similar stun guns because they say the weapons are unsafe and can cause death.

Landry and Nethken both said they did not take those concerns lightly.

"I looked at every possible concern raised with Tasers before I made the decision and I feel very comfortable that the benefits outweigh any liabilities," Landry said.

Nethken said extensive medical data and studies show that Taser stun guns are safe.

"We have standard operating procedures and guidelines for officers on when to use the Tasers and when not to use them," Nethken said.

"Every time a Taser is used there is 100 percent accountability and each use would be reviewed by myself and the police chief," Nethken said.

When an officer pulls the Taser gun trigger once, Nethken said, it can immobilize a suspect for five seconds by confusing the nervous system with a electronic impulse that contracts the muscles.

According to Taser International Inc.'s Web site, more than 11,000 of the 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States use Taser brand stun devices.

Copyright 2008 The Advocate

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