Written by Patty Decker Tuesday, 01 September 2009 13:02
If it’s between lethal or non-lethal force when dealing with a suspect, Marion County law enforcement agencies are choosing Tasers or similar electro-shock devices as the non-lethal option.
“We have only had to use the Taser one time in the field. But...the presence of the Taser has been enough for someone to cooperate rather than be tased,” says Hillsboro Police Chief Dan Kinning.
“Gaining control rather than getting compliance from a suspect is about the safety of the officer and the suspect,” said Jessey Hiebert, Hillsboro assistant police chief and a certified Taser instructor.
To gain control of the suspect means taking away the ability of that person to hurt the officer and to prevent the suspect from being hurt due to his ability to hurt the officer, Hiebert said.
“Compliance means the suspect will do what he is asked.”
“We have only had to use the Taser one time in the field,” Hillsboro Police Chief Dan Kinning said.
“But other than that one incident, the presence of the Taser has been enough for someone to cooperate rather than be tased.”
Hillsboro’s police department was first introduced to Tasers in 2004.
“We did research on Tasers and a lot of (police) departments put Tasers high on the force continuum,” he said.
The force continuum is a scale of alternatives police choose when intervening in conflicts. It’s not unusual that the level of response can change within seconds, depending on the situation.
In some cases, no force or minimal force is all that’s needed to stop a situation from escalating. But if that doesn’t diffuse a situation, the next step would be a baton, pepper spray or Taser, with lethal force used only when a significant threat arises.
Although pepper spray was once considered an effective tool, it can be ineffective on people intoxicated or those who mentally won’t be stopped.
The baton, which is made of hard wood or aluminum, can bring a combative person down, allowing police to carry out the arrest.
“A perfect example of the Taser, without actually discharging it, would be when an officer presents the threat of the Taser to a suspect who is attempting to hurt him or failing to comply with the officer's directions and they (the attacker) then decides to comply to keep from being exposed,” Hiebert said.
Domestic calls and other officer-involved violent encounters would; however, be the kind of environment when a Taser is needed,” he said.
Other Marion County law enforcement officials agree, saying that of all the options available, the Taser or other similar devices are much safer and effective in pacifying an aggressive suspect.
Faced with the option of open hands, baton, pepper spray or a Taser-type weapon, Peabody Police Chief Bruce Burke said he prefers the Taser.
Peabody officers use the Stinger, which is similar to a Taser. It is cheaper and has some drawbacks.
The Taser costs about $800, as opposed to $400 for a Stinger, and in most Marion County towns, the weapons were not bought with taxpayer money.
Hillsboro, Marion, Peabody and Goessel purchased electroshock weapons using diversion funds and other programs that reimburse police departments.
Most officers said they prefer the Taser over the Stinger for effectiveness and durability.
Even though Peabody police use the Stinger, Burke said, it’s still a more humane way for officers to gain compliance in a serious situation.
“We had to use the Stinger (in the field) one time,” he said.
Burke said the city council approved the use of the Stinger about two years ago. The money to buy the weapon came from diversion funds.
“If police are in a hands-on situation, there is a chance they could lose their firearm or baton,” Kinning said. “(This situation) also could result in a greater risk of personal injury (to the officer or suspect).”
Given the same circumstances, but using a Taser, the outcome would be different.
“Stopping the suspect with a Taser would quickly diffuse the situation,” he said.
The Marion County Sheriff’s Office also added electronic devices to protect themselves and the public in recent years, and city of Marion police demonstrated the effectiveness of a Taser during a mid-May council meeting.
Marion Police Sgt. Tyler Mermis agreed to be tased and Hiebert, in his capacity as a certified instructor, showed how effective the gun is.
Councilors watched as Hiebert discharged 50,000 volts at a very low amperage on Mermis.
“(The Taser) is an unpleasant sensation, giving the officer a five-second leeway to put handcuffs on the suspect,” Hiebert said. “What makes it effective is the impulse it sends that causes every muscle to flex.”
The weapon has two small darts, connected to wires, which drops the suspect at a safe, no-contact distance of between 15 to 20 feet.
The electrodes stay connected to the main unit until the officer removes them from the suspect. Once the cartridge has been discharged, it is replaced with a new one.
Unlike pepper spray, the Taser is also more effective on people under the influence of drugs or alcohol or those displaying violent behavior.
“It’s a life-saving device in protecting both the public and police,” Hiebert said.
Marion council members were so confident about the Taser’s use following Hiebert’s demonstration, they agreed to back their police department’s purchase.
“This is an advantage to our officers,” Josh Whitwell said. “It will be better on suspects and less wear and tear on officers.”
Hiebert has trained everyone in the county who carries a Taser X26, and he also does recertifications.
Marion County Sheriff Rob Craft said his office uses the Stinger, but said they are not as effective as the Taser.
Craft said when money is available, he plans to upgrade to Tasers.
“Tasers are not perfect in all situations,” Kinning said, “but it gives us something more acceptable (than other methods at that level of the force continuum).”
“I believe the Taser has provided officers with another choice when it comes to controlling a situation quickly while using a lower degree of force,” Hiebert said.
“A Taser will never take the place of a pistol when it comes to lethal force encounters, but it can bring many calls to an end prior to them ever reaching the point of lethal force,” he said.