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Tarpon police to begin using Tasers

Commissioners informally agree to their use after the Police Department presented research on the devices, which will cost the city about $6,000. Locally, all the major police departments are employing them.

By NICOLE JOHNSON
Published July 22, 2005

TARPON SPRINGS - In the next few weeks, Tarpon Springs police will add electric stun guns to their arsenal of weapons.

Tuesday night, city commissioners reached a consensus in favor of the Police Department plan to purchase a half-dozen battery-operated Tasers, costing $6,000, that deliver 50,000 volts of electric shock.

Money for the devices was budgeted earlier this year, but the Police Department wanted to present research on the electric weapons before actually purchasing them.

"We've been researching for about a year," police Capt. Bob Kochen said. "We were watching the state, got our facts and decided based on that information that it would be a good tool for the officers to have in the field."

About 6,500 police departments use Tasers nationwide, according to Amnesty International. Locally, all the major police departments are employing the gunlike devices. The St. Petersburg Police Department announced this week that its officers would begin using Tasers.

Advocates say the weapons prevent injury to officers and suspects in physical confrontations with violent suspects or mentally ill people.

The Tarpon Springs Police Department plans to purchase the Taser X26 model, manufactured by Taser International of Scottsdale, Ariz. The device looks like a small black gun, but has dartlike probes that extend 21 feet.

When those darts hit a person, they send a paralyzing electric shock through the muscular system.

The gun has the capability to record time, date and duration each time the Taser is fired.

"It shows us how the device was used," Kochen said. "If someone made a complaint about being Tasered, we can check the date."

But the added feature has done little to allay Taser critics.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida has raised concerns that the Tasers' perception of being a gun substitute could promote excessive use.

There have been about 103 Taser-related deaths nationwide, according to Amnesty International.

Those who support the Tasers argue there is no way to tell if those deaths were caused by the stun gun, since many of the victims had excessive amounts of drugs in their system or pre-existing medical conditions.

Still, James Ruggieri, a forensic engineer in Virginia, maintains Tasers should not be ruled out in those deaths.

"Unless they have a direct line or red telephone to God, I don't see how they can make the claim that the Taser is not what killed these people," said Ruggieri, who made a presentation urging better Taser-use training at the American Academy of Forensic Science conference in December.

During their meeting Tuesday night, Tarpon Springs commissioners spent more time discussing a townhouse development north of the Anclote River than the stun guns. Commissioners generally raised few concerns, though Commissioner Peter Dalacos emphasized training for officers.

"The safety aspect of our officers using these are the main concern," Dalacos said. "We have to make sure we're cautious . . . even overcautious."

The Pinellas Police Standards Council, a research and policy board consisting of all local police chiefs and other law enforcement officials, is working on a master Taser policy to be implemented countywide. While each jurisdiction will have the right to tailor the guidelines to its locality, the policy promises to have some standard guidelines.

"It will address training, when to deploy and what type of documentation you need to do," Tarpon Springs police Sgt. Jeff Young said.

The city plans to send two officers to complete training conducted by the Taser company. They will then train the rest of the department's 48 sworn officers, Young said. The six Tasers will be shared among the officers.

Police Chief Mark LeCouris will work with the city's library to provide information on Tasers to the public.

Mayor Beverly Billiris expressed confidence in the city's decision to purchase the Tasers because of her firsthand experience of getting Tasered at a Florida League of Cities convention in Nevada a few months ago.

"It felt like if you walked across a rug and got shocked," she said. "Well, multiply that by 100 all over your body."

Nicole Johnson can be reached at njohnson@sptime.com or 727 771-4303.

[Last modified July 22, 2005, 00:45:11]


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