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Memphis Police Look At Nonlethal Weapons

The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)

The Memphis Police Department, which has been criticized recently for the way officers have confronted unruly and hostile suspects, is exploring options for using nondeadly force. A demonstration Tuesday of such "less lethal" weapons at the Police Academy came after a mentally disturbed man died in April while being taken into custody and a doctor was shot and killed in May after pointing a gun at officers.

"There were two incidents recently when citizens unfortunately lost their lives when officers were trying to restrain them," said Lt. Michael Rallings, commander of the Firearms Training Unit. "We''ve got to be proactive and reactive."

The April death of Denvey Buckley, 43, outside his Midtown home set off an outpouring of protests by neighbors. Witnesses disputed the police version of the confrontation with Buckley, who had a heart attack while police were restraining him. The police director has referred the case to the FBI and state prosecutors for review. In May, cardiologist Dr. Anthony Bowman, 44, was shot and killed outside his East Memphis apartment when he ignored requests to put down his weapon, police said.

Use of the nonlethal Taser weapons could prevent incidents such as the one in which Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) officers fatally shot the doctor, said Rallings.

The department is testing an improved Taser, a close-range stun gun that fires electrically charged darts that freeze the muscles.

Memphis police used Tasers in the early 1990s, but suspended the practice because of the possibility that the electrical sparks would ignite the officers'' pepper spray. With the new tasers, an officer can touch a suspect without being affected by the charge.

On Tuesday, after a video presentation, the training seminar moved to the indoor firing range where firearms training unit members demonstrated the effects of the new Tasers by locking arms and taking a shot in the back.

Immediately after impact, the officers collapsed screaming in pain. But in seconds, the pain subsided and the officers were laughing about the experience.

"It''s like a hammer hitting you repeatedly," said Officer Elizabeth Smith. "I experienced it for two seconds, and I was counting."

Police also demonstrated the "intimidation factor" of the Sage SL-6 Launcher, firing off rubber bullets the size of a baby''s fist. The department has used the launcher since 1998.

"People have seen it in movies blowing up houses," Rallings said. "That helps us."

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