Jun 17, 2012 - By Emily Etheredge, Staff WriterLast in a series
The use of the electric-shock Taser by the Riverton Police Department has decreased substantially in the past two years as departmental policy has changed under new chief Mike Broadhead.
The Taser can be used three ways to subdue an offender: by actually firing probes into a subject, by performing a drive stun (no probe deployment with the Taser being held against a subject and then shocked), and by simply displaying the electric arc to threaten the subject.
The RPD tracks each of these methods of use every time it is used, including how many cycles of electricity are discharged on a probe deployment.
Broadhead said that between Jan. 1 and March 31 this year, the Taser was used against two subjects in Riverton who both received probe deployment and two cycles of electricity.
In 2011, the arc was displayed 18 times, the drive stun mode was used 11 times, and probe deployment was used 11 times.
Those numbers down considerably from previous years.
In 2010, the RPD used the Taser 78 times, with the arc displayed 27 times, drive-stun mode 21 times, and 28 instances when the probes were fired into a subject with a cycle.
Broadhead attributes the dramatic decrease in Taser use to a more restrictive departmental policy in conjunction with an updated training class during the summer and fall of 2011.
"I had some concerns that by making the policy more restrictive, the RPD might be putting the officers more at risk of personal injury, but that has not been the case," Broadhead said. "To me, that means the more restrictive policy has been very effective."
The Lander Police Department introduced Tasers in 2009 and has seen a dramatic decrease in suspect and officer injuries relating to physical arrests.
Lander police chief Jim Carey said a recent study released by the American Heart Association identifying dangers associated with Taser use does not seem to correspond to the 1 million exposures by Tasers that have happened in the United States.
"It is just difficult to see where this device that we have used more than eight times would cause an injury when we have not seen that,"Carey said. "The Taser has actually been very beneficial for us."
Carey said with the use of a Taser by his police officers can gain complete control of the situation without putting the officer at risk.
"We had an arrest recently where an officer told the suspect to stop or he was going to tase them. The suspect stopped just at the mere mention," Carey said.
Often when a subject is hit with probe deployment, it requires two cycles to get compliance. The subject receives the first shocks and is handcuffed or detained, but because there is no lasting effect, the moment the cycle ends the suspect will often want to continue the fight and is given another cycle.
"I personally, as well as nearly 100 percent of our officers, have taken a Taser hit, and I can say from experience that it is definitely not an enjoyable experience, but it is better than being struck with a baton or sprayed with pepper spray," Broadhead said.
RPD and LPD officers carry or have access to force alternatives such as batons, pepper spray, Tasers, and bean-bag rounds.
Additionally, each officer is trained in "hands-on" approaches to use of force that could include joint locks, wrestling and strikes. Officers also have firearms for lethal use of force.
Broadhead said each situation where force is necessary is dynamic, and there is no one-size-fits-all remedy.
In some circumstances, lethal force is the only option.
"Fortunately, that is very rare," he said, "but officers are confronted on a regular basis with people who would rather fight than be apprehended.
"The officer is required through good training and experience to make very quick decisions regarding the appropriate level of force to be used."
'Lawful police purpose'
Both RPD and LPD have policies that require officers use the minimum amount of force necessary and reasonable to bring an incident under control while protecting the lives of citizens and other department members to accomplish a lawful police purpose or objective.
Broadhead said the biggest risk from a Taser is that someone who has been shocked can be injured while falling.
"There is no such thing as having no risk in law enforcement operations, and we try to manage and minimize risk through effective training and proper tools.
But law enforcement officers drive cars, carry firearms, and interact with people who are almost always under the influence of alcohol, drugs or adrenaline."
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