Police force to pump up Taser stock
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Police force to pump up Taser stock

The Desert Sun | April 24, 2005
By Xochitl Peña

The Indio Police Department plans to buy more "less-than-lethal" weapons thanks to a $45,342 federal grant from the Justice Assistance Grant Program.

The department already has eight Taser stun guns and uses pepper-ball equipment.

The grant will allow the department to outfit the rest of its patrol officers with Tasers, pepper-ball equipment and bean-bag firearms.

Despite some concerns about the safety of Tasers, local police say the weapon is one of the most effective less-than-lethal weapons on the market today.

"It all goes back to proper uses and training," said Indio Police Department spokesman Ben Guitron, who's heard of the controversy.

He said the department hasn't had any issues connected with using the weapons and plans to train each officer before the new Tasers are used. He said officers also receive ongoing maintenance training.

"Most of the municipal agencies have them. It's not an uncommon thing," Guitron said.

Desert Hot Springs police began using Tasers in March.

Now, all law enforcement agencies throughout the valley - with the exception of the Riverside County Sheriff's Department - equip officers with the weapon.

Law enforcement agencies use the weapons because they say doing so minimizes injuries to suspects and officers alike during combative arrests.

A Taser looks much like an officer's handgun, only smaller. Guitron said he's not sure how many will be bought but said the department will most likely shop around for the best technology.

The guns can be fired from a distance, sending a five-second cycle of 50,000 volts of electricity into a subject, incapacitating him or her.

Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union have expressed concern about the weapons, saying arrest-related deaths have occurred hours or days after a person has been zapped by a Taser.

A U.S. Defense Department study, however, says those deaths were often due to illegal drug intoxication.

As a result of the concerns, the International Association of Chiefs of Police released a report earlier this month, titled "Electro-Muscular Disruption Technology: A Nine Step Strategy For Effective Deployment." It urges law enforcement agencies to use caution when using weapons such as stun guns or Tasers that disrupt a person's motor and sensory nervous systems.

Guitron said the police department has been using Tasers for about two years without incident.

He said they are effective when trying to subdue a violent or aggressive person without causing harm to the person or officer.

Indio Mayor Pro-Tem Gene Gilbert, who was a sergeant with the police department for 18years, agrees.

"This way, it keeps (violent offenders) at arm's length and minimizes injuries to both parties," he said.

He remembers the days when all he had was a gun and a baton. It was either use lethal force or get up close and personal to a potential offender.

"There was really no in between," he said.

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