By Nathan Mayberg
SOUTH FALLSBURG January 11, 2005 The Town of Fallsburg Police Department recently became the first police department in the county to be authorized to use TASER guns, advertised as non-lethal, but which have been cited to be the cause of over 70 deaths nationwide since 1999, according to the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International.
The Fallsburg Town Board recently approved the measure. The five guns and their related equipment will cost $3,500, according to town records.
Town of Fallsburg Police Chief Brent Lawrence said he believed the new guns would give his officers a non-lethal defense option. He said that, in the past, officers have had to take time off due to injuries from confrontations with suspects. The department has had one officer out of work since November 2002 due to arm and neck injuries sustained in a scuffle with a suspect, said Lawrence.
Lawrence said that officers will be required to follow specific procedures when they use a TASER gun. Officers could use a TASER if a suspect did not withdraw a weapon, or if the officer was under attack. The chief said it would be a judgment call on the part of the police but that the gun would only be used when the officer had no other choice.
TASERs discharge up to 50,000 volts of electricity through a persons body, causing temporary paralysis. The initial shock can last up to 5 seconds. Lawrence said that in most cases a secondary use of the gun would not be necessary. Lawrence said that each use of the TASER, including its duration, will be automatically documented by a computer.
He said that any alleged abuse of the TASER would be investigated. He said any matter of negligence would be treated seriously, but he doesnt anticipate it to be a problem.
In response to the allegations that TASER guns have caused the death of over 70 people nationwide, Lawrence cited information provided by TASER International which argued that those who died suffered from a previous illness or were on drugs.
Steve Brown, Executive Director of the Rhode Island American Civil Liberties Union, has called for a ban on the use of the weapon. He said police departments nationwide are using them inappropriately.
He said the weapons are touted as an alternative to deadly force but are often used in situations when deadly force would never be necessary, citing TASER Internationals own statistics that 85 percent of those hit with the volts of electricity were never armed.
The Rhode Island chapter noted a study by the sheriffs office in Orange County, Florida, which found a 58 percent increase in the use of force since TASERs were introduced.
According to the national office of the American Civil Liberties Union, ten people died in August this year in America and Canada after being shocked by a TASER gun.
In response to the increase in deaths due to the weapon, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California has called on the San Francisco Police Department to only use the weapons in cases where there is imminent danger to a human life. The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado has demanded similar restrictions after an increase in the number of in-custody deaths. The Greater Miami Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida has alleged TASER abuse in Miami.
Brown said he hoped that attention drawn to the weapons will alleviate the over-use of them. He said the ACLU doesnt completely condemn the use of the weapon., that if a persons life is being threatened, it would be a useful alternative to deadly force.
Amnesty Internationals Web site also claims TASERs have been abused by police. They say there has been a number of attacks on young children, including one case where a 15-year-old schoolgirl was stunned after a dispute on a bus, and a 13-year-old schoolgirl was shocked after throwing a book in a library.
Amnesty International has documented 74 deaths related to TASER use. The site states that the gun has been used in many cases against the young, elderly and unarmed.
Michael Coplen, TASERs Public Relations Coordinator and Law Enforcement Liaison, disputed the arguments made against the company. He said any deaths associated with the gun were caused either by a previous illness or drugs ingested by the individual.
The corporations Website further states that the gun causes no long-term damage. However, it also says that those hit with the gun can experience critical response amnesia. The company bases its claims on research by several doctors.
The company boasts that injuries to police officers have dropped substantially due to the use of the weapon. The site features multiple testimonies from law enforcement agencies.
The Website further warns against the use of the gun to the face, where serious injury can result. The gun should be fired from seven to ten feet away, says the site.
In Fallsburg, all 18 officers in the department will receive training on how to use a TASER. Four have completed training so far. Officers have the option of being hit with a TASER themselves when they train. Lawrence said two of them already did so.
Town of Fallsburg Supervisor Steven Levine said the guns would prevent department officers from being injured. He said that TASERs could only be used under special circumstances when controlling a violent individual. He said he would cut out the use of the weapons if there are any abuses.