The Ann Arbor Police Department, after placing an order totaling
nearly $100,000, will equip each of its uniformed officers with
Taser guns before next fall.

Ryan Nowak
Ann Arbor Police Department sergeant Jim Baird displays one of the Tasers recently purchased by the AAPD. The total cost of the guns was nearly $100,000. (ALEX DZIADOSZ/Daily)

Sgt. Jim Baird, the officer in charge of the Taser program, said
the devices are intended to help police officers subdue
uncooperative suspects who are too dangerous to be restrained
without a weapon, but who do not warrant use of deadly force.

Before the Taser, officers could use either Mace or a baton on
such suspects.

Baird said the new device is both safer and more effective than
either of the old weapons. Mace, he said, is dependent on pain
tolerance — a suspect who is able to ignore the pain can
continue fighting, unaffected save for temporary blindness —
and the baton, while more effective than Mace, is likely to cause
injury.

“With the Taser, it’s the best of both
worlds,” Baird said. “It’s more incapacitating
than the baton and even a sidearm in some cases. It allows you to
take control of someone without hurting them at all.”

The device, which weighs seven ounces and resembles a plastic
toy gun, administers a 50,000-volt shock by firing two probes onto
a subject’s skin or clothing.

Unlike traditional stun devices, which use painful shocks to
subdue a person, the newer Tasers temporarily disrupt the
electrical signals between the brain and the nerves, causing a
subject to lose muscular control and collapse.

“They tried to use a Taser on Rodney King, and it was
terribly ineffective. It wasn’t the device that’s in
use today,” said Baird of the older model that police used in
the 1991 car chase with suspect King, ultimately using a baton to
stop him.

The older model, which relied on pain compliance to stop
suspects from resisting arrest, used seven to 11 watts of
electricity — and, as with Mace, a sufficiently determined
suspect can continue fighting after the shock.

“At 26 watts, that’s no longer an option available
to anybody,” he said. “Their pain threshold is
basically irrelevant.”

Although the stun guns have become increasingly popular in
recent months, with 4,500 law-enforcement agencies now using or
testing them, some have expressed concern over their safety. In the
past month, police agencies in Georgia’s Macon and Forsythe
counties have suspended the use of Tasers following several deaths
involving the devices.

Several state chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union
have called for tighter regulations on the use of Tasers, and the
national organization officially opposes any police use of
nonlethal weapons except as a substitute for lethal force.
Representatives from the campus ACLU chapter declined to comment on
the phone.

Baird dismissed such concerns.

“It was a little bit of a knee-jerk reaction and an
overreaction,” he said, noting that no death has ever been
attributed directly to a Taser.

Baird said most fatalities that occur after the use of a Taser
are attributed to either heart problems or drug overdoses.

The Taser, he said, could not be blamed for deaths resulting
from such problems.

Since it incapacitates suspects without raising their heart
rates, Baird said the device has likely saved lives by making a
physical struggle — which can cause a heart attack in some
cases — unnecessary.

Baird said the Taser has been used in the field by AAPD officers
“six or seven times” so far, with only 15 devices
currently in rotation.

The officers who have used them, he said, have been pleased with
the results.

“It’s been very effective at controlling the person,
and yet we haven’t hurt anybody,” Baird said.

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