Friday, January 18, 2008

CHP officers add Taser guns to their DUI arsenal

California DUI defense lawyer news

CHP armed with Tasers - many have safety doubts

January 18, 2008

Sacramento-area California Highway Patrol officers will be carrying Taser guns in coming weeks, as the state's 6,500 CHP officers begin patrolling the roads with the stun gun in tow.

CHP commanders approved the purchase of 1,659 stun guns after a field study of the guns showed they are a valuable tool for officers, including during California DUI arrests.

Now, training officers are holding classes in CHP field offices on the gun's use, even as some in the medical and human rights communities continue to question its safety.

CHP spokeswoman Fran Clader said she hopes the very display of the guns will defuse tense situations, as it did in 33 of 73 instances when the gun was drawn during a six-month field study. The 40 times the weapon was actually used, six suspects were injured, mostly from falling after being stunned.

At least one supporter of the addition to the CHP arsenal believes the stun guns will reduce injuries to officers and suspects.

Jon Hamm, chief executive officer of the California Association of Highway Patrolmen, said he's heard anecdotal accounts of officers gaining the edge over suspects just by claiming to have a Taser.

"People know – you don't want to mess with a Taser," he said.

The stun guns grabbed headlines this year when a University of Florida student who was detained by police while fervently questioning John Kerry during a lecture hollered, "Don't tase me, bro." The video was widely viewed on the Internet and raised debate over police use of force.

In Sacramento, six men have died after being shot with a Taser by law enforcement officers, but no death has been directly attributed to the use of the Taser.

The CHP report has no analysis of civilian safety but says the Tasers should save the agency money if all officer injuries are eliminated. Clader said the CHP bought the X-26 stun guns for $788.85 each. Officers will check out the stun guns at the start of each shift and return them at the end.

After an officer stuns a suspect, the person will be taken to a hospital for evaluation, Clader said.

An Amnesty International director applauds that policy but still urges all law enforcement to hold off on using the stun gun unless deadly force is the only other option.

Mona Cadena, director of Amnesty International's Western region, said 284 people have died after being shot by a Taser stun gun since 2001 and only 25 were carrying a weapon.

Cadena said coroner's officials ruled the Taser as a possible or contributing cause in 26 of the deaths.

She said there is too little research into the stun gun's effect on the body for it to be used routinely.

"I don't know if we can truly answer the question: How much force are we using when we use the Taser?" she said.

Officials from Taser International, the company from which the CHP bought the guns, dispute that, saying the device is safe.

Spokesman Steve Tuttle said the Taser stun gun has been listed as a contributory cause in only six deaths.

"Hands down, this piece of technology is the safer alternative for use of force for the CHP as well as the citizens of California," Tuttle said. "Compare this to a baton strike, and I think you understand what I'm talking about."

Clader said department policy directs officers to use the stun gun when faced with "an overt act or aggressive action where the subject is presenting a potential risk to an officer or public safety."

Sacramento police bought Tasers in 2000 and their policy asks officers to use them "to maximize the safety of all individuals involved in an incident."

The force's 771 sworn officers deployed the stun gun 29 times in 2007, according to spokesman Sgt. Matt Young.

In 21 instances, the gun was effective, department data show. Young said officers are glad to have the guns.

"Our goal in law enforcement is to gain compliance and de- escalate volatile situations with the least amount of force necessary," he said, noting the Tasers help officers reach that goal.

Before buying the stun guns, the CHP documented results of a pilot study in Oakland, Los Angeles, Stockton and the Capitol Protection Office in Sacramento.

The study describes instances when the gun was used from Oct. 1, 2005, to March 31, 2006. Officers used the stun gun on 20 suspects who were fighting or resisting, at nine who were running or walking away and at four people who were not complying with officers' directions. In some cases, the Taser was used twice on the same suspect.

Three of the suspects were stunned while they were handcuffed but flailing or ignoring officers' commands. All deployments of the stun gun were described as "in accordance with the department's policy."

Hamm said the officers welcome the weapon in the field.

"I'm glad to see them," he said. "The guys are very excited to get them out there."

Even as the CHP's stun guns are spreading throughout the state, a UC San Francisco researcher is analyzing findings of a study that examines the stun gun's effects on officer safety and civilian sudden deaths.

Dr. Zian Tseng said officers using Tasers should avoid hitting people in the chest and that it would be wise to carry defibrillators in their car trunks.

More research needs to be done, he said, to determine how strongly the Taser affects the rhythm of the heart and whether the intense pain can trigger heart attacks and death.

"Certainly we should not be thinking of Tasers as nonlethal," he said.

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