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Sheriff says he's inclined to return Tasers to schools

Florida Times-Union | May 31, 2005
By BRIDGET MURPHY

Sheriff John Rutherford said he plans to put Tasers back on Jacksonville streets and likely will arm school resource officers as well, although those officers would have a tougher set of rules for stun gun use.

Rutherford said he believes Tasers can be effectively and safely used by police officers in schools and a likely compromise to banning the stun guns would be to order officers to use the devices only in cases where lethal force is needed.

The sheriff said he hopes to make a decision about whether to arm school resource officers with Tasers before the new school year starts, and he'll reserve final judgment until he finishes hearing from community members at the last of several town-hall meetings that began weeks ago.

The sheriff pulled Tasers off the streets in February, putting the agency's $1.8 million stock into storage. But he said Friday Tasers will be re-deployed on the streets after a task force formed in April comes up with guidelines for how police officers should engage people who may be medically pre-disposed to dying in police struggles, including when Tasers are used.

The task force includes doctors and members of the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department. The last three community meetings on Taser use will be held in June.

Rutherford, who was Tasered at a January news conference in an effort to show the devices are safe, said his impression from community meetings that already have been held is that once parents understand how Tasers work, they are pretty comfortable with the idea of having them in schools.

Not everyone agrees, however, with representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People speaking out against the devices at at least one of the meetings.

A Jacksonville sheriff's officer got a three-day suspension this month after he Tasered a 13-year-old, 65-pound handcuffed girl in February as she kicked the inside of his police cruiser. Rutherford said Friday he believes that officer used poor judgment.

Critics of the devices point to deaths that have resulted after police Taser use.

The 50,000-volt devices shoot two barbs into a target through which electricity flows, temporarily incapacitating a person. They also can be used in stun mode, as happened with the 13-year-old, when a shock is localized in the area of the body where the device is placed.

Taser timeline

May 2004

It is announced Jacksonville police officers may get assault rifles and Tasers through Mayor John Peyton's $43 million Safety First Initiative.

January

Police who serve as school resource officers at middle and high schools soon will start carrying Tasers, the Sheriff's Office said. The agency has signed a $1.8 million contract with Taser International to buy 1,800 stun guns in the next two years.

February

Amid public pressure, the sheriff suspends use of Tasers until a more detailed policy and training program are in place. At a town hall meeting, he says he'll re-evaluate the plan to use Tasers in schools.

March

Jacksonville Sheriff's Office officials defend an officer's decision to use a Taser on a 65-pound 13-year-old girl who was handcuffed and in the back of a police car, but the state attorney said he had "serious concerns."

The sheriff announces 14 community meetings to talk about future of Tasers in Jacksonville, with 75 people attending the first meeting. Representatives from the NAACP and American Civil Liberties Union speak against Tasers.

April

The Sheriff's Office announces a task force to develop standards for how officers deal with people who may be medically predisposed to dying in police custody when officers use force, including Tasers, in struggles.

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