Mich. Officers Find Tasers Stunningly Effective
By Rex Hall Jr., The Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Mich.)
Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety Chief Dan Weston compares it to grabbing an electric stock fence.
That''s what it was like for Weston when he was shot recently with one of his department''s new X-26 tasers, sending 50,000 volts through his body. The voluntary exercise was part of the training public safety officers have gone through to be able to use the new tool on the streets.
The department purchased 13 tasers last month, and 10 are being used daily by officers on patrol. The Kalamazoo County Sheriff''s Department also uses X-26 tasers. It purchased 25 tasers last year, and every sheriff''s deputy on the road carries one.
Weston said tasers, which were legalized in December 2002 for law enforcement use, are another tool for police on the "use of force continuum."
"It''s much safer for the person that is fighting the police officer because it does not inflict residual injury, whereas the blunt-force to the knee or elbows or collarbone of a night stick does," Weston said. "They are both means of pain compliance, but the taser does not have residual effect. When it''s over, it''s over."
Law enforcement officials agree that the taser has been a positive addition.
Weston recounted two recent cases in which officers used tasers to subdue men who both had guns and weren''t responding to the commands of police.
Kalamazoo County Sheriff Mike Anderson said that since last January, his deputies have deployed tasers 27 times.
The X-26 taser is comparable in size to a handgun and weighs less than a pound. When fired, it emits two probes which release 50,000 volts into a point of contact.
The probes from the taser can reach a distance of up to 21 feet and release the 50,000-volt jolt for five seconds, according to Taser International, Inc., a Scottsdale, Ariz., distributor.
While the taser releases a significant amount of voltage, it is not known to cause any permanent nerve or muscle damage to individuals hit by them, police said.
Anderson said the taser offers police a less-lethal alternative during volatile situations and, at the same time, allows them to immediately gain control.
"Safety of our officers is a critical issue and when there''s a piece of safety equipment like this available, waiting to procure that equipment just doesn''t make good sense," Anderson said. "We feel this is a critical piece of equipment, much like an officer''s firearm. It would obviously eliminate the need for escalating the use of force to bring the situation under control."
Anderson said all sheriff''s deputies who carry a taser were required to be shot with one during their training. KDPS officers were given a choice whether to be hit with the taser.
"They call it the longest five seconds of their life," Anderson said of the officers who went through taser training at the sheriff''s department. "It is extreme pain, there''s no question about it. No one would want to get hit by it a second time."
Since tasers were legalized in Michigan in December 2002, nearly 100 law enforcement agencies in the state have began using them, said Jeff Kirkpatrick, director of operations for Michigan Taser.
Kirkpatrick said the growth in popularity of tasers is not confined to Michigan. He said nearly 4,500 police departments across the nation are now using tasers.
"What''s happening is the taser is the most significant tool to change the way that law enforcement operates to come along in the last 30 years," he said.
Kirkpatrick, who works as court officer in Jackson, worked with state officials to draft a bill to legalize tasers in Michigan. Former Gov. John Engler signed the legislation into law shortly before leaving office.
"The taser is not a magic bullet," said Kirkpatrick, whose company is the sole distributor of tasers in Michigan. "It''s just another tool in the tool box. It gives officers the distance to effectively control suspects. It gives them another alternative."
Kalamazoo Township Police have not begun using tasers, but Chief Tim Bourgeois said the department is considering adding the tool.
"We''ve done research on them and it appears that they would offer an officer another option," Bourgeois said. "However, I would stress that they are not a cure-all or a substitute for deadly force."
Taser International reported fourth quarter net income of $2.8 million in 2003, up from $67,500 for that period the year before, according to the Business Journal of Phoenix.
Taser International spokesman Steve Tuttle said the company receives about 170 new requests for taser equipment monthly from police departments across the nation. He said the company has seen some of its biggest sales growth in Michigan.
"It''s just taken off like a rocket," Tuttle said. "The demand has shot through the roof."