Police use of Taser weapon increases

Tuesday, July 6th 2004, 10:57 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Police use of the Taser stun gun in Oklahoma City nearly doubled last year compared to 2002 as officers increasingly found the nonlethal weapon useful in apprehending dangerous suspects.

Powered by a battery and compressed nitrogen, two small barbs can deliver an electrical charge that attacks the central nervous system. The pistol-like device can disrupt muscle function by flooding the body with 50,000 volts of electricity in 5-second bursts.

Oklahoma City police have used Taser weapons since 2001. Police aren't ready to attribute Taser use to fewer officer-involved shootings, but such incidents have fallen since Tasers became part of the department's arsenal.

Oklahoma City officers were involved in 12 shootings in 2000, in which five suspects were killed. In 2001, the year Oklahoma City bought its Tasers, officer-involved shootings dropped to seven. That number dropped to five in 2002, and there were six in 2003. Three shootings have been reported so far this year.

In Oklahoma, 51 city, county, university, Indian and airport law enforcement agencies use Tasers.

About 4,500 law enforcement agencies are using the Tasers in the United States and Canada, according to Taser International Inc., a Scottsdale, Ariz., maker of the nonlethal weapons.

In Oklahoma City, use of Tasers has increased from 59 times in 2002 to 127 in 2003. Probes charged with electricity have been shot into 111 people, while 57 suspects were shocked with the weapon when it was pressed against their skin, Oklahoma City police reported.

Simply activating the red laser-sighting dot onto the suspect or displaying the blue electrical charge at the front of the weapon convinced 61 people to follow the officers' demands, police say.

Ten other suspects decided to do what officers asked just because the officer was armed with a Taser, police said.

Police claim just showing up with a Taser sometimes calms violent criminals and opens dialogue with the mentally ill, said police Sgt. Keith Simonds, an Oklahoma City training officer.

``When the suspect sees this on the hip of the officer or in the officer's hand, they realize that they are fixing to get shocked,'' Simonds said. ``The word on the street is that they don't want to go that route. So, we get a lot of compliance just when they see it.''

Since 2001, 50 people have died in the United States and Canada while in custody after being shocked with a Taser. Two are from Oklahoma City. Excessive drug use was cited as a primary factor in both deaths.