Police See Taser As Vital Tool

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When a 27-year-old local man was hit with a Taser gun, his muscles shut down and he went down to the ground.

He said what was almost as bad was the sound the Taser made when it was deployed.

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Payson Police officer John Heflin tests his Taser, a sometimes controversial nonlethal weapon designed to immobilize a target by emitting 50,000 volts of electricity and .004 amps into the human body.

"When you get hit with the (shock) everything shuts down, and you have no control of your muscles," said the man who asked not to be identified. He said after the Taser shock was deployed he was fine.

"You picture it more or less of having a finger in a light socket, but it is not," he added.

The Payson Police Department and its officers have the Tasers at their disposal as a "tool."

The Tasers the PPD uses are electro muscular disruption conducting energy weapons.

Payson Police Commander Don Engler, who has been hit with Tasers numerous times in training, said the deployment results in intermuscular disturbances.

He said his officers use a Taser a few times a month, and a week ago, Tasered a man twice for being "confrontational."

About five years ago, the PPD started getting Tasers, and nearly three years ago, all of its officers had them at their disposal.

If there were no Tasers, officers would, in some cases, have to use their batons, which could result in broken bones, cuts and bruises.

A Taser, Engler said, allows officers to take the suspect into custody with the least amount of force that is necessary.

Engler said it depends on the circumstance when and if a Taser is to be deployed.

If an officer does deploy one, he or she must fill out a use-of-force form to describe how and why the officer felt the Taser was needed.

Engler said in the early 1990s, the PPD had seven officers who were injured in the line of duty because the only way they had to subdue suspects was by hand, resulting in injuries to police and the suspects.

"We had no other tools," he said. "We started looking at nonlethal devices."

The Payson Police commander, who trains officers on Tasers, said officers do not have to feel the impacts as part of their training. He added 95 percent of the force though, consent to having Tasers used on them.

When used on a suspect, there is a five-second deployment, and it can be used repeatedly until the person becomes compliant. On a few occasions, suspects had to be hit three different times.

Engler said when he was first hit with a Taser shot, he was surprised that it took him to the ground.

The Tasers the PPD uses can be used with probes that reach 21 feet or by direct contact with a person.

Engler said he knows of no instance where a Taser ended up killing a person, contrary to the reports of a man being killed in Mesa after a Taser was used.

He said the unknown is what are the other things that were going on in the man's life at the time -- was he on drugs or had he exerted himself, are some of the unknowns.

"I know of no deaths that were related to Tasers," he said, mentioning that if a person continues to struggle after being shot once, that a second deployment will follow.

Engler pointed to an incident a few years ago where a man's life was saved because a Taser was used.

Officer John Heflin remembers that incident very well.

Heflin and other officers responded to a domestic violence call, and when they arrived at the location, a man approached officers with a butcher knife, in what police now think was a "suicide by cop" attempt.

When the suspect was within 14 feet of an officer, he was Tasered, causing him to drop the knife.

If the Taser had not worked, there was another officer that had his firearm aimed at the man with the knife.

"In a lethal-force case, we would not deploy a Taser if there was no lethal-force backup," Heflin said. "There is no doubt using the Taser saved the man's life."

"We see it as a tool to solve a problem," Heflin said.

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