Herald JournalHerald Journal, Jan. 24, 2005

Tasers becoming new tool of choice for local law enforcement

By Ryan Gueningsman
Staff Writer

Looking to decrease use of force by police officers, local police and sheriff’s departments are turning to a new tool to help fight crime – and keep people safe at the same time.

Both the Winsted and Lester Prairie police departments have received grant funding to allow them to purchase several taser devices, which, in time, will replace the officer baton.

Tasers are conductive electricity devices that are a safer use of force for law enforcement. The devices shoot two small probes up to 21 feet at a speed of more than 160 feet per second, resulting in an immediate loss of the person’s neuromuscular control (short circuits the nervous system) and the ability to perform coordinated action for the duration of the impulse.

“There has been some negative press on tasers in relation to causing death,” Winsted Police Chief Mike Henrich said. “But I don’t think there’s a whole lot of talk on people who were saved by use of the taser – a person that got shot with a taser didn’t get shot with a gun.”

Henrich received the blessing from the Winsted City Council Jan. 17 to go ahead with the taser purchase. Lester Prairie Police Chief Bob Carlson received similar approval from his council several weeks ago.

Both police chiefs noted that public perception of seeing someone being tased is better than seeing someone being hit with a baton.

“We’re not out there wanting to beat people,” Henrich said, referring to different television reports showing officers hitting people with batons.

“We need to stop a person from doing wrong,” he said. “This is a tool that’s emerging, and we’re going to capitalize on it.”

Carlson noted that most confrontations don’t justify the use of lethal force, and should not have to expose officers and the public to the risk of injury.

“The main goal is always protection of themselves (officers) and the people they are dealing with,” Henrich said. “It’s another tool for the officer, and another avenue for the people we do arrest.”

Medical and scientific experts have determined tasers to be among the safest use of force options available, according to Taser International. They do not interfere with an individual’s heartbeat or pacemakers. The first taser was introduced in 1974, and is named after Thomas A. Swift and his Electric Rifle (taser).

“There are a number of benefits to using a taser,” said Carver County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Paul Tschida. “When you use the taser, it incapacitates the person that is being tased and it doesn’t leave any bruises. If an officer used a baton, there would be some bruises, or if a chemical irritant (pepper spray) was used, there would be longer lasting effects.”

Tschida also noted that tasers can be used when it is not safe for an officer to get very close to an individual, and in suicide situations.

“Obviously, the first thing to do is verbal communication,” he said. “If that is exhausted, a taser can be used to incapacitate the person so they can be safely taken into custody and get the help they need.”

Grant money used to fund local tasers

The Lester Prairie and Winsted police departments received money to purchase the taser devices through a Minnesota Department of Public Safety local law enforcement block grant program.

Winsted received $7,444 to be used to purchase three tasers, as well as a squad car video camera.

“The video camera will record onto DVD and save storage space,” Henrich said.

Lester Prairie received $5,000 for four tasers and one portable radio.

A 10 percent match is required from each agency, which means that Lester Prairie would pay $560.

Also locally, the Silver Lake Police Department received $3,000 in grant funding for tasers, as well.

Carlson noted that other agencies in McLeod County, including the Glencoe Police Department and the sheriff’s department, have begun the process of using tasers.

Howard Lake Police Chief Lenny Keyes has done some research into purchasing tasers, but “nothing real serious yet.”

“I think really all agencies should go with it,” he said. “It seems to be the trend.” He plans on doing more research into the devices and bringing it to the city for discussion.

The Wright County Sheriff’s Department has been carrying tasers for about two years, said Lieutenant Dan Anselment.

“They’re becoming pretty popular in the law enforcement world,” he said, noting that the patrol supervisors, roaming supervisors, members of the county’s emergency response team, as well as jail and court workers use them, as well. Anselment also noted that the Buffalo and Annandale police departments also have tasers.

“They’re an excellent addition to our tools,” he said.

Tschida agreed, noting that the Carver County Sheriff’s Department is in the process of implementing taser use.

“Within the next two weeks, the final draft for policy and procedure should be in place,” he said. Carver County owns 12 tasers, and is in the process of training officers and jail staff.

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