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City officers now carrying Tasers

March 7, 2012

    Decatur's police force is now armed ... with Tasers.
    Using strictly public donations, the city police department has purchased nine of the devices and they are being carried by the officers. The "road officers" — those who patrol — are carrying the Tasers with their sidearms.
    Another Taser is rotated among the shift commanders.
    The department's Use of Force Policy was presented to the city's Board of Works and Safety prior to Tuesday night's city council meeting. Board members and City Attorney Tim Baker checked over the policy and gave it a green light.
    All department officers, including the chief and assistant chief, went through a training session. And 30 members of the group of 34 were Tasered — "took a hit" is the way they say it — to get a first-hand lesson in how it feels.
    Chief Ken Ketzler says its devices are likely to be used very infrequently. "It's a deterrent as much as anything," he explained.
    If an officer does use a Taser, he will have to fill out a report explaining the circumstances. It will be reviewed by second trick Sgt. Mark Cook, who heads up the Taser program, and Ketzler.
    The devices are used to subdue belligerent people, someone who might be fleeing, someone threatening an officer — perhaps with a weapon — and so on. They give officers a non-lethal weapon to use rather than a firearm.
    The Tasers carried by city officers send out a charge of 50,000 volts, have a range of some 25 feet and hold two cartridges so two people can be subdued almost simultaneously.

Taser details    
    A Taser is an electroshock weapon that uses electrical current to disrupt voluntary control of muscles. It was created and marketed by Taser International.
    The operator aims the Taser like a pistol at the intended victim and pulls the trigger; the device releases two barbed electrodes which penetrate the suspect.    Two long, thin wires connect the barbed electrodes to the Taser gun. When the probes connect with the target, the Taser delivers 50,000 volts of electricity to the victim. This shock overrides the target's central nervous system, causing his/her muscles to seize and contract uncontrollably and painfully.
    As a result, the victim  drop to the ground and experiences muscle spasms.
    "It (the incapacitation) is only five seconds, but you lose all control," said Assistant Police Chief Greg Cook, who took a hit during the training.
    With one pull of the Taser's trigger, the gun fires the probes, trailing their wires as they penetrate their target and delivers a five-second pulse of electricity before shutting off automatically.
    Since teaming up with police forces in 1999, Taser has had widespread success, Wikipedia says, with a 2009 Police Executive Research Forum study stating that officer injuries drop by 76 percent when a Taser is used.

Funded through donations
    The Tasers purchased by the Decatur Police Department were funded entirely through public donations. With the devices costing $1,060 apiece, that means some $9,350 was contributed.
    "We really are thankful to the public," Police Chief Ken Ketzler said Tuesday. "It was done strictly through donations."    
    All officers who patrol will carry Tasers and one Taser will be rotated among the command officers on each shift. Ketzler and Assistant Chief Greg Cook will not carry the devices.
    Ketzler said it is hoped that additional funds can be raised to purchase at least four more Tasers.

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