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Ga. school police close to getting TASERs

School board of Glynn County has given green light to police chief to establish policy on use of devices for school officers

Glynn County Schools Police Chief Rod Ellis is one step closer to equipping his force with stun guns.

An idea proposed during a Glynn County School Board Safety and Discipline Committee meeting in December is moving forward with the drafting of a policy for the training and use of the weapons, capable of immobilizing an individual with an electric shock.

The school board gave the committee a green light to create a policy that will define when, where and on whom school resource officers can use the stun guns.

Ellis sees Tasers, the brand name of a stun gun he is interested in equipping his officers with, as just one more tool school police can use to protect themselves, other school staff members and students.

It is not the first time use of stun guns in public schools in Glynn County has come up. Ellis' predecessor, school police chief Ron Lee, proposed the idea during the 2009-10 school year, but it failed to win the support of the school board or school administrators.

Ellis believes the misconception at the time was that Tasers would be used on students.

"I wouldn't rule that out entirely if a student got incredibly violent, but I just don't see it happening," Ellis said. "This is for protection against the unruly intruders on campus and such. We don't get up in the morning and say, 'How many kids can we harm today?' It's about how can we protect our kids?

"Originally, when this first came up a few years ago, I didn't support it either. But now I see the need for it. A lot of things have changed. All this is is just another option."

Ellis says policies are already in place for the lethal guns SROs carry. A Taser is a lesser weapon that could prevent injury more than cause it, he said.

In fact, Ellis said he wished he and his officers had been equipped with Tasers when a man came onto the Brunswick High campus with a gun a few weeks ago during a basketball game.

Ellis is working with school superintendent Howard Mann and schools spokesman Jim Weidhaas to create what he considers a transparent and fully vetted policy.

"The policy of this agency is that this will be transparent," Ellis said. "These aren't school discipline tools. Everything we do is mission-focused and we'd never abuse the public trust given to us."

Ellis is using the resources of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the same association police in places like Charlotte, N.C., use, and is networking with the chief of police of the Gwinnett County School System, an agency armed with Tasers.

The policy will include a purpose statement, training and certification requirements, use and etiquette.

Ellis said alternative restraint tactics would be applied first and would need to fail before a Taser would be used. Under almost no circumstance would someone under the age of 14 be subdued with a stun gun, he said.
"Unless the actions have placed the entire school environment in danger, it wouldn't be used on someone under 14," Ellis said.

For example, a young but oversized student brandishing a weapon that could seriously harm or kill himself or others might be a situation where an officer might think about using a Taser. But there are steps in place before it would get to that point, Ellis stressed. His officers have all received certified training in tactics to deal with situations like that.

Should the policy be approved, Ellis is requesting 17 Tasers from Taser International -- likely its M26C or X26C models, ranging from $500 to $1,000 each. He considers the original makers to be the gold standard and doesn't want to use anything that hasn't had proven success at other agencies.

The board plans to review the Taser policy at its Jan. 28 meeting. The funds would come out of the police force's operating budget.

Copyright 2014 The Brunswick News

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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