Tasers another safety tool for officers

By ALLEN LAMAN
alaman@dcherald.com

Equipped with amps of bad-guy-halting electricity, a local police department will soon add electroshock weapons to their officers’ arsenals.

The Ferdinand Town Council approved a Taser policy and the purchase of two of the conducted electrical weapons for their force at a meeting last week. If all goes as planned, three more of the devices will come to the department in the future.

“They’re another tool for us to use to help protect the officer, help protect the public and protect the individual that we’re dealing with,” said Lloyd Froman, Ferdinand’s police chief.

Other area police chiefs agreed. The Jasper and Huntingburg police departments have used the weapons for years, as have members of the Dubois County Sheriff’s Office. Indiana State Police troopers in Dubois County are also equipped with the devices.

“We have saved people’s lives in Jasper [and] Dubois County because of the Taser,” said Jasper Police Chief Nathan Schmitt. “Where we didn’t have to even entertain, or we didn’t have to go to deadly force.”

So, how do Tasers work?

The devices discharge a cartridge with two wires with probes on the end that stick to the recipient’s body, close an electrical circuit and shock the person for a five-second period. Those barbs can travel a distance of up to 21 feet before latching.

“The electricity disrupts their muscles and locks them up, and forces them to the ground most of the time,” Schmitt said.

The Jasper department’s devices also feature a direct-contact stun gun that can drive an arch of electricity into a body.

Before they are armed with them, Jasper officers are trained, and their operators are encouraged to stand on the other end of the barrels to feel the crippling sensation the guns generate. Most of them do.

“There’s several thought processes with that,” Schmitt explained. “One, if somebody gets your Taser from you, it shows that they can totally incapacitate you and it’s a deadly situation. It emphasizes that, plus, it emphasizes the fact that it doesn’t feel very good, so make sure that you’re using it properly.”

Cale Knies, Jasper’s director of personnel, safety and loss control, described the feeling that follows the debilitating muscle contracting that comes with the shock as “basically an hour workout in five seconds.”

According to a 2009 study from the American College of Emergency Physicians, a three-year review of all Taser uses against criminal suspects at six law enforcement agencies found only three significant injuries out of the 1,201 criminal suspects subdued by the electrical weapons. That means that 99.75% of those suspects received no injuries, or mild injuries only.

All Jasper officers are issued a Taser, and numbers from Schmitt show the devices have been fired just 18 times in the last 3 1/2 years. There are people included in that count, he said, “that, I’m not gonna say we were absolutely going to shoot them, but there’s peoples’ lives we’ve saved because of the Taser.” Subduing them prevented further violence, and it allowed the police department to avoid using deadly force, he said.

All Huntingburg Police Department officers are also issued one of the devices, though Huntingburg Police Chief Art Parks didn’t have their usage numbers readily available. Still, he said the five-second incapacitation period the devices create is valuable because it helps prevent physical fights and minimizes injury to both officers and suspects.

When presenting his proposal, Froman told Ferdinand Town Council members that his department needed the tools to defuse violent situations, and to be used in potentially deadly situations, like when an individual is trying to commit suicide by police.

“Basically, what it boils down to, we need to be able to respond to these situations knowing that we have various options to assist us in resolving them with less probable injury to the officer and the suspect,” he said.




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