License to stun
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During the 24 hours of training, officers have the option of being “Tased,” to show not only the weapon’s effectiveness but also its temporary effects, and among those who took the opportunity were Stoughton’s Devine and Shastany, as well as Leary and East Bridgewater police Sergeant Michael McLaughlin.
McLaughlin, who produced an informational video on the weapons for the town’s community access channel, said several department officers conducting the training were also Tased.
“I wouldn’t want to ask someone else to do it without knowing myself what we’re dealing with,” he said, describing the feeling of being Tased as “terrible.”
Many Tasers used by law enforcement have cameras that are automatically activated and start recording when the weapon is turned on. Devine said the video record becomes part of the evidence in an incident.
O’Leary, who reviews use of his department’s Tasers, said his officers’ behavior with the weapon has been responsible.
According to a 2009 report by the Washington, D.C-based Police Executive Research Forum, injuries to officers drop by 76 percent when a Taser is used to subdue a suspect in place of other weapons.
Shastany said extensive testing of the weapon and the experience of many law enforcement agencies that use it have allayed many concerns.
“With a Taser, you know the outcome before you use it,’’ he said. “That’s not true when you use another impact weapon.”
But the use of the weapon has generated lawsuits. Last month, the University of Cincinnati agreed to pay $2 million and suspend the use of Tasers by university police as part of a settlement with the family of a student who died after being shocked with a Taser. A coroner’s investigation could not determine the cause of death, but the family and expert witnesses blamed the shock from the Taser.
Critics of the weapons say some officers are too free to use them, in situations that do not call for them. In May 2011, Stoughton Town Meeting member Ed DeFelice spoke out against the proposal to purchase the weapons then, citing incidents elsewhere that had resulted in deaths.
In a recent interview, DeFelice said he still has concerns that Tasers might be used on someone whose only crime was being unruly, and that tragedy could result.
“What if that person has a heart condition, a medical device that could be affected, or is a pregnant woman?” he asked. “You don’t know beforehand how it will affect someone.”
He said he had no problem with officers deploying the weapon during the recent incident in Stoughton. “That was basically a riot, and all bets are off,” he said.
Shastany said as the Taser evolves, he expects that eventually all police departments will issue the weapon.
“If you don’t have them in the future, a judge or a lawyer may ask, ‘Why not?’ A jury might decide under the reasonableness standard that you should have had them. It’s simply a more humane way to subdue a suspect,” he said.
Rich Fahey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.