Vancouver Police Test TASER Gun; Assess Less Lethal Options
Saturday, March 29, 2003
By JOHN BRANTON
When a No. 8 fishhook wired to a 50,000-volt Taser gun slammed into his back, Vancouver police Officer Bill Pardue went rigid as a pine board.
Had people not been supporting Pardue's arms in a demonstration of the Taser on Friday, he might have fallen on his face. Instead, he was lowered to a mat on the floor.
"It's hard to describe," Pardue said moments later. "You just feel like it grabs ahold of your body. You can't move."
Had he been a drugged, mentally deranged or otherwise hostile assailant, the five-second Taser zapping likely would have given police time to separate him from any weapons and handcuff him.
The M26 Taser pistol, which Vancouver police are testing in a pilot program, will give officers a new "less-than-lethal" alternative to shooting an assailant with a firearm, said Police Chief Brian Martinek.
Pardue, who volunteered for the demonstration, appeared no worse for the wear, except for a tiny, bloodied hole in his back.
"I'm fine," he said later.
The bright-yellow pistol, powered by a compressed-gas canister and eight AA batteries, had fired a straightened-out barbed hook attached to a 21-foot wire. It caused electrical, involuntary contraction of Pardue's skeletal muscles and overrode his motor nervous system.
So far, the department has purchased three of the $400 weapons, which are used by more than 1,700 law-enforcement agencies in the United States.
Thousands of tests have shown that being Tasered isn't dangerous to the heart, even in the case of people wearing pacemakers, according to Taser International Inc. The M26, with only 0.162 amp, is an offshoot of the stun gun, and can be used as a stun gun if the hook-firing tip is removed.
When that is done, a noisy, nasty-looking spark leaps a few inches from the pistol's muzzle.
But unlike early stun guns with five to 15 watts, the M26 uses 26 watts of power. Its spark, in cases where the hook lodges itself in heavy clothing, can jump two inches to reach an assailant's flesh. A bright-red laser dot provides the targeting system.
More effective than a stun gun or a spray of hot-pepper resin in the face, the Taser enabled the Orange County, Fla., Sheriff's Office to reduce injuries to deputies by 80 percent, the company said.
If the Taser works out in Vancouver, the department may purchase more, Martinek said. Officers would wear the Taser in a holster on one side, and their regular pistol on the other side.
Here are some other "less-lethal" weapons used by police officers:
* Sage gun: Ask a volunteer if being Tasered was painful, and some say no. But that is not the case with the department's older less-lethal gun, the six-round Sage-brand rifle. The gun fires a hefty, hard-plastic, 4-inch-long baton that is aimed at large-muscle areas such as the thighs, lower abdomen and buttocks, said Sgt. Duane McNicholas.
The powerful gun inflicts bruises. Rather than immobilizing an assailant like the Taser, the Sage seeks compliance through pain. The Sage gun has been used in Vancouver since 1997, when it successfully subdued a barricaded man who refused to drop a knife.
One problem with the Sage gun: It can kill if it hits someone in the head, face or throat.
* Bean-bag gun: Clark County Sheriff's deputies call it a "green gun" because it's been painted green to differentiate it from other guns. It is a standard 12-gauge shotgun loaded with bean-bag rounds, said sheriff's Sgt. Melanie Kenoyer.
A few years ago, she said, a deputy used the bean-bag gun on a deranged man who was breaking things in a Salmon Creek motel.
"It took two rounds, but it took him down," Kenoyer said. The man was treated at a hospital for minor injuries.
Bean-bag guns have been known to fail, Martinek said.
* PepperBall System: A newer less-lethal weapon, used in Seattle and many other cities, is the semi-automatic PepperBall high-pressure air projectile launcher. The gun fires hard-plastic spheres, filled with the hottest pepper powder on the market, that burst on impact.
* Pepper spray: Officers everywhere carry compact canisters of hot-pepper resin, and a spray in the eyes often subdues assailants so they can be handcuffed.
On the other hand, "Some people it just doesn't work on," Kenoyer said. "It doesn't affect them."
It's also been known to backfire. Last October, an officer was temporarily overcome by the spray after giving a dose to a wanted man in a fight. However, the officer was able to shake it off and arrest the suspect with the help of another officer.