Hutto police officers are now carrying Tasers, or electroshock weapons, designed to reduce both officer and subject injuries, according to city officials.
The Hutto Police Department purchased 11 of the non-lethal weapons equipped with cameras, plus associated adjustable holsters, for just under $17,000 over the summer.
Hutto Police Chief Peter Scheets said the Tasers are designed to reduce risk of injury and give officers another non-lethal option in their arsenal.
“I’m a big proponent of Tasers,” Scheets said. “I’d rather be shocked by a Taser than sprayed with pepper spray. What they’ve found with departments that have Tasers is they reduce injuries for both police officers and the subjects you’re applying force to.”
Tasers are electroshock weapons produced by the company Taser International based in Arizona. The weapons use an electrical current to disrupt voluntary muscle control, incapacitating the subject for a matter of seconds.
“A Taser is five seconds,” Scheets said. “In that five seconds, it allows the officer to regain control and if he needs to make an arrest, he or she can apply handcuffs. The point of the Taser is that you — as the suspect that the Taser is being used on — you’re not going to be struck with a baton or sprayed with these other chemical agents that could cause more serious issues than the Taser does. So, it reduces the risk to you and it reduces the risk of injury to the officer.”
Scheets said he has been tased and prefers it to the effects of pepper spray, which can be longer lasting.
Lt. Dwain Jones, who oversees Hutto’s patrol division, says Tasers provide another dimension to potential or actual altercations.
“It brings a different dynamic to a volatile situation,” Jones said. “If someone knows they’re about to get tased, most people that are of rational mind are going to comply rather than get tased, if they are actively resisting.”
As law enforcement officials across the United States increasingly turn to Tasers as a non-lethal weapon of choice, the device’s safety is under examination.
Taser International reports that it spent $4.5 million over five years on scientific and medical research related to the safety of Taser technology. Findings, the company says, affirm Taser safety and prove the technology offers a safer, more effective use of force for law enforcement.
However, according to data collected by the human rights watchdog organization Amnesty International, at least 500 people in the U.S. have died since 2001 after being shocked with Tasers either during their arrest or while in jail.
“I know the public concern is the thought of shocking someone with electricity,” Scheets said. “I’ve gone through it three times myself just to demonstrate that it’s not anything major.”
In fact, all Hutto officers have been through the training, Jones said, and barring exceptional circumstances, Tasers provide an opportunity to reduce risk of injury to all parties involved.
“There’s a lot more chance of you getting hurt if we go hands on with you,” Jones said. “Or, officers getting hurt, which is what has happened in the past. It instantly diffuses that situation — five seconds and it’s over and the subject is in handcuffs. Short of having some sort of medical condition or using a drug they aren’t aware of, they are fairly safe.”
Amnesty International advocates for strict national guidelines on police use of Tasers and stun weapons to replace thousands of individual policies now followed by state and local agencies.
According to Hutto police policy, they may be used when non-deadly force is authorized. Officers must issue a verbal warning to a subject that they are about to get tased. If the subject is non-compliant, they might get tased. The department already has used Tasers in at least two situations.
“We actually had one use with a subject who was offering verbal resistance and then appeared as if he was going to fight with the officer, so the officer at that point applied the Taser, put handcuffs on the subject and got the situation back under control,” Scheets said.
When a Taser is activated, the camera begins rolling from a few seconds before activation throughout the event. That data can be downloaded and analyzed, he said.
The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) published a set of TASER guidelines in 2005 that were updated in 2011. In litigation, PERF reports, the guidelines were controversial at times. Since that time, years of Taser experience, updated medical research and numerous court cases have resulted in broader knowledge.
Amnesty International believes the weapons should only be used as an alternative in situations where police would otherwise consider using firearms.
“Even if deaths directly from Taser shocks are relatively rare, adverse effects can happen very quickly, without warning, and be impossible to reverse,” Susan Lee, Americas Program Director at Amnesty International, said in a statement earlier this year on Taser use. “Given this risk, such weapons should always be used with great caution, in situations where lesser alternatives are unavailable.”
Scheets said Hutto PD puts Taser use at a level where the subject on which it is used has to be offering some level of resistance other than just verbal. Officers on the Hutto force who carry the weapon have not only been trained in its use, he said, but the weapon has been used on them as well.
“All the officers are trained on the use and each officer actually had to be subjected to the effects of it,” Scheets said. “We want them to understand two things: How it works on the body and the actual effect that it has on an individual, so they won’t attempt to apply it wantonly.”