“Stick ‘Em Up” To Take On Whole New Meaning In Brandon When Police Acquire TASERS
Tuesday October 10, 2006
By Ed Barna
Local troublemakers may consider Sept. 27, 2006 a dark day, because that's when the Select Board authorized the Police Department to use Tasers--but these high-tech sublethal weapons might some day save some of their lives.
Ever since inventors figured out how to boost a low-power current's voltage by putting it through the right capacitors and other electronic parts, people have been finding uses for devices based on the principle. Cattle were among the first to experience the results of such technological prod-uctivity, and electric bugswatters (which make flying bugs pop like popcorn) are among the latest devices to appear on the market.
Somewhere in between, TASER International patented a way of using the principle to effectively but nearly harmlessly disable an uncooperative person (which is why Taser is capitalized). Since the device is still proprietary, that makes it easy to determine how many police forces have adopted the technology: over 9,100 law enforcement, correctional and military agencies in 43 countries since 1998, according to the company.
Also, 115,000 of the lower-powered “civilian defense” model, legal in 43 states (including Vermont, but not New York or Massachusetts) have been sold since 1994. These self-defense devices are legal in 43 states, Vermont among them, but don't carry one into New York or Massachusetts, where they're not.
Here's a TASER, International description of how they operate: “TASER electronic control devices utilize compressed nitrogen to project two small probes up to 15, 21, 25 and 35 feet (citizens can only buy the 15-foot Air Cartridge) at a speed of over 160 feet per second. These probes are connected to the TASER system by insulated wire.”
“An electrical signal is transmitted through the wires to where the probes make contact with the body or clothing...This effect is a state-of-the-art Neuro-Muscular Incapacitation (NMI) technology that temporarily overrides the nervous system, taking over muscular control.”
Think for a minute about that incident not long ago in southern Vermont where a man drew a knife and was shot dead by the police. Pepper spray won't do the job indoors--or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, it does a number on everyone, including the police--but Tasers might have avoided that highly controversial fatality.
Like a lot of things, the use of Tasers is bigger out West and is coming East. Brandon's Chief of Police, Lonnie Hatman, said he gained familiarity with them at his last post, in North Pole, Alaska.
Hatman pointed out that pepper spray is a bad idea when the wind is blowing the wrong way. Also, he said, about 20 percent of the people it's used on aren't stopped by it.
“It's disconcerting when the guy wipes his eye and says, 'You shouldn't have done that,'” he said.
In case you like to pick blueberries on Blueberry Hill but don't like the idea of sharing with bears, Hatman also said that pepper spray shouldn't be counted on to stop them, either. In Alaska, there's a plus-size model that's called “Bear Guard,” but in his opinion, the device's best use is “more of a deterrent.”
For an officer equipped with one of the two Tasers the department will acquire, “it gives us another option before you have to go up to lethal,” Hatman said. (There will only be two, at least to start, because each one costs about $900, according to Town Manager Keith Arlund.)
Arlund said their use is contingent on having a departmental policy in place--which he did not see as a problem because they can just amend the one they already have on weapon use. Also, he said, the officers will need to receive training, which TASER International usually provides.
Training, as with pepper spray, includes having been there and had it done to you. Among the criminal element, that experience is sometimes described as “riding the buffalo” or “riding the chair.”
One American Civil Liberties Union official wondered whether that organization should approve of using Tasers, and volunteered to get zapped. A Cincinnati, Ohio newspaper quoted him as saying, "It's the worst possible feeling you can imagine. Time seems to slow down. You can't believe it's only five seconds. It feels like a minute and all you can think of is please make it stop."
But it the end, he became a supporter of Tasers, which have a very small rate of serious effects on safety and health.
Hatman said, “If I had a preference, I would rather be Tasered than pepper sprayed. It hurts, but when it's done it's done. With pepper spray, it takes 45 minutes to recover.”
At www.taser.com, under the section Law Enforcement, it's possible to watch videos of their use by clicking Actual Use Videos. Even with a dial-up connection, there's a fast-loading version that gives a pretty good idea of how quickly an attacker crumbles.
Brandon will be among the leaders in acquiring the devices. According to the Vermont Police Academy's head R. J. Elrick, they're now in use by Brattleboro, Burlington, Rutland, and the University of Vermont campus police, with the State Police testing them.
Back in the first years of Otter Valley Union High School, there was an English teacher who was fond of telling students who were acting up, “Zap! You're transmogrified!” He was just a little bit ahead of his time.
P.S. Speaking of self-defense: anyone interested in getting an electric bugswatter should consider ordering one through Harbor Freight (www.harbor freight.com or 800-423 2367). Their model 40122-2ASH costs $7.99, where most are several dollars more: uses D batteries rather than AA's, so it stays at adequate strength longer; and is very well made.