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'Just the threat of the Taser is enough'

 by Sam Good
 published on Monday, January 29, 2007

TASER SAFETY: Vice President of Communications for Taser International Steve Tuttle displays the inside of a Taser gun in the production room of Taser International Friday.  The death of a Gilbert man after being tased by police has recently sparked a debate over Taser safety./issues/news/699461
Andrea Bloom / THE STATE PRESS
TASER SAFETY: Vice President of Communications for Taser International Steve Tuttle displays the inside of a Taser gun in the production room of Taser International Friday. The death of a Gilbert man after being tased by police has recently sparked a debate over Taser safety.
 

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Despite recent reports of injury and death from Tasers, ASU and Tempe Police Departments continue to praise the devices that they say save lives.

"The Taser is great for our policemen to have," Cmdr. Jim Hardina of the ASU police said. "It helps to save the lives of both our officers and the people who get hit with it, because without the Taser, the officers may have had to use their firearms or another type of force instead."

But not everybody experiences the safe side of Tasers.

An 18-year-old Gilbert man died in the hospital hours after officers used their stun guns to restrain him on Jan. 18.

In November, a University of California, Los Angeles, student was repeatedly stunned by police using Tasers in the University's bookstore despite onlooker's pleas for the officers to stop. Video from this incident is posted on the Web site YouTube.com.

Incidents such as these put the debate of whether police officers should carry Tasers into the public spotlight.

Steve Tuttle, vice president of communications for Taser International, said the stun guns his company produces help to save lives and are the best weapons police carry.

"If you have to use force, there is no other safer alternative that the police use than the Taser," he said. "The effects of the pepper spray will linger for hours; the baton can break bones; the pain from the bean bag gun lasts a long time; and firearms can be deadly. The Taser is just safer."

Scottsdale-based Taser International is one of the largest distributors of stun guns in the world and has sold more than a quarter million Tasers to more than 10,000 police departments in 44 countries worldwide.

Jay Spradling, assistant chief of the ASU police department agreed with Tuttle, saying that Tasers are a safer weapon than they are perceived to be.

"The Taser is a great tool, and I think it is a safe tool," he said.

Taser International's largest opposition comes from Amnesty International, an organization established to help protect human rights, Tuttle said.

The organization reports stun guns are cruel and violate human rights.

"[Tasers are] portable and easy to use, with the capacity to inflict severe pain at the push of a button without leaving substantial marks," a report on their Web site states. "The use of electro-shock weapons appears to have violated international standards prohibiting torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment ... "

Officers from the ASU and Tempe police departments have carried Tasers for more than three years. Both departments currently use the X26 model, which they purchased from Taser International, and officers from both departments are very pleased with its results.

Tempe police officers displayed their Tasers 30 times last year, but only deployed the weapon 13 times. These numbers were not available for the ASU department.

"Usually just the threat of the Taser is enough to get suspects to comply with the officer's commands," Sgt. Mike Horn of the Tempe PD said.

An officer's presence is usually enough to make a suspect stop whatever behavior they are exhibiting, Hardina said. Officers only use their Taser in compliance with the department's use of force continuum, which outlines when and how much force an officer is allowed to use, he added.

Horn said he did not know of any officers who do not like having the Taser as an option if physical force is necessary.

The Arizona Republic conducted some of the most extensive research on the subject and reported 167 Taser-related deaths across the country in 2006.

But Tuttle said there is a difference between causing a death and being related to a death. The Tasers may have been deployed on individuals who have died, but he says the stun guns did not cause the deaths.

"Yes, people have died after being hit with the Taser, but that exposure was not necessarily the cause of death," Tuttle said. "After the medical examiner looks at the case, it is usually determined that other factors caused the death."

Taser International has yet to lose any of the 36 wrongful death suits filed against it.

But Tasers still have a bad reputation because of what Tuttle said were "outrageous headlines" in newspapers when one of these incidents occurs.

Tasers have a 96.2 percent success rate in the field, and Horn said that number saves lives.

Reach the reporter at: samuel.good@asu.edu.



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