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Ind. Police Forgo TASERs in Face of Health Risks

The Fort Wayne Police Department has decided not to supply officers with Tasers.


Police Chief Rusty York said Tuesday he wants more independent data about the hazards of using Tasers on people who are using drugs or those who have heart conditions.

"I still think it''s a valuable tool," York said. "But I think we have to go into it knowing what the consequences could be if it''s used on certain individuals under certain circumstances. We don''t have all that information now."

The department originally planned to buy 83 Tasers – stun guns used to subdue unruly people – with an $86,000 Department of Justice grant, but postponed the purchase after a November report from Amnesty International raised concerns about the weapons'' safety.

The report said Tasers had contributed to the deaths of 74 people since June 2001. The report also said the stun guns were also linked to the recent deaths of five people who had abused drugs or had heart disease.

Tasers emit a low amperage of electricity through two plugs, temporarily disabling a person. Normal shots last about five seconds and are strong enough to work from 21 feet away.

York considered a pilot program deploying 12 Tasers to examine the effects of the stun guns but abandoned that plan as well, he said.

The department has until August to decide how to spend the $86,000 grant.

The money could be used to enhance the department''s Automatic Fingerprint Identification System and other lab equipment or help pay for a driving simulator, York said.

City police, however, have not given up on Tasers, he said. He said it all depends on money and future findings on the device''s safety. York said he doesn''t believe federal money will be available next year because of President Bush''s austere budget proposal.

"We are going ahead, and we are working on policies and other things," York said. "But I''m not prepared to have it this year."

Steve Tuttle, spokesman for Arizona-based Taser International, which manufactures the stun guns, did not return a call from The Journal Gazette.

Although Fort Wayne police have taken a cautious approach with Tasers, the stun guns are used by other police departments in northeast Indiana.

Wells County police began using 15 Tasers for road officers and two for confinement officers at the jail. Sheriff Barry Story said the weapon was used only once.

A man wanted on an arrest warrant turned himself in to the court last month, and a judge asked police to pick him up. An officer led the man into a hallway, but the man ran away when he was about to be handcuffed. The officer fired a Taser, but it didn''t jolt the man because only one of the weapon''s two plugs struck his body, Story said. Because of repair work, the man could not open the door leading outside and was apprehended.

"We don''t look to use it very often," Story said. "It''s another tool we have at our disposal."

In the Wells County Jail, an officer tried to break up a fight, but the inmates stopped fighting when they saw the officer prepare to use the stun gun.

"When they see the Tasers coming out, all of the sudden, they straighten up their acts," Story said.

Noble County Sheriff Gary Leatherman agrees that Tasers increasingly possess deterrent power as the weapons become more recognizable.

The Noble County Sheriff''s Department issues Tasers to road and jail officers, but the stun guns have been used sparingly since he became sheriff in 2003, Leatherman said.

"In the absence of a Taser, what must an officer rely on at that time? To go to a firearm?" he asked. "If you have to go to a firearm, what''s going to happen then?"

The Steuben County Sheriff''s Department use Tasers only in the jail. They have been used six times to subdue inmates since early 2004, Sheriff Rick Lewis said.

There have been fewer injuries to both confinement officers and inmates since then, and Lewis is satisfied with the device, he said. He said the department is eager to make Tasers available to road officers.

The Bluffton Police Department just bought 17 Tasers and has been undergoing training. Chief Tammy Schaffer said officers will be ready to carry the device this month.

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