Stuart, Fla. Police Arsenal Expands With Tasers
By Gabriel Margasak, The Stuart News (Stuart, Fla.)
Stuart, Fla. Police sergeant Marty Jacobson is incapacitated after being hit in the back with a M26 Taser, and is held up by canine officer Eric Schaubel, left, and master officer Brian Huffman. Jacobson's body went limp after he volunteered to be hit in the back with the new weapon. The Stuart Police Department has purchased 27 of the weapons, and officers took a 4 hour class on how to safely use it. (Photo: Steven R. Martine, The Stuart News)
But for five seconds, he couldn't do much but scream as two metal barbs from a Taser gun shocked him into submission — yet left him feeling just fine seconds later.
That's how some city officers plan to subdue combative suspects as Stuart police began issuing the non-lethal weapons. Several hours of training Monday night marked the start of an effort billed to make law enforcement safer for police and suspects.
"We felt it was something that could reduce not only injuries to officers but to citizens as well," said Stuart Police Chief Edward Morley.
While police shootings in the city and Martin County are rare, officers and sheriff's deputies say physical fights with suspects are common.
"It gives the officer another option rather than fighting the suspect," Morley said.
Morley said the technology only recently became readily available, leading to the decision to buy 27 Tasers at about $800 a piece, or a total of $21,600.
So far, training Officer Dan Pantel said Stuart police have used the weapon once to capture a fleeing suspect without inflicting serious injury.
"Throughout Florida, it has dropped officers' injuries and suspects' injuries 80 percent," he said, citing statistics from the company that manufactures the Taser. "That's incredible."
And, he said, the weapons are safe, even recording every firing so police supervisors can track each gun's use.
"It didn't hurt. I was trying to fight it but I couldn't," Jacobson said after his test, showing two puncture marks on his back that looked like bee stings. He said he could feel the stings afterwards but they weren't painful.
Jacobson said the Taser had an advantage over the commonly used pepper-type spray because it only affects the intended target, not everyone in the area.
With the new Tasers, city police joined other area law enforcement agencies that already have the devices or are planning for them as standard equipment.
The Martin County Sheriff's Office is working to outfit its entire force with the devices after a two-year test proved successful, sheriff's officials said.
"Right now, if a deputy has a Taser on his or her belt, a lot of the people who used to resist us . . . once they see the weapon they become completely compliant," said Deputy Dennis Root, the sheriff's use of force training specialist.
"Guys who used to run from us turn around and say, 'Just don't tase me.'"
During the two years, Root said the six test Tasers were used 30 times throughout the county.
Of those, they were fired and shocked suspects 18 times. In 12 cases, just the display of the device was enough make the suspects "immediately" comply, Root said.
Root said the agency is working to buy about 230 Tasers — an investment of about $205,000 for the actual devices plus more money for training.
For Jacobson, the experience of getting hit could be shaken off quickly, but the thought of increased safety stuck.
"Hopefully, it will induce cooperation more quickly without the officer or suspect getting hurt," he said.