Chapel Hill Tasers set for stun

Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Tribune photo by Clint Confehr Chapel Hill Police Chief Jackie King displays his department's latest tool.

CHAPEL HILL - Police here are now equipped with Tasers, stun guns used to temporarily incapacitate a suspect up close or up to 25 feet away, the police chief has announced.

"Night and day, we're about five minutes from getting back up," Police Chief Jackie King explained. "This is a less than lethal weapon... I'd rather be shot with this than a .40-caliber bullet."

The department purchased five "electro-muscular disruption devices" for $600 each in January, but they've been available for use only two weeks because the five-man department was trained last month.

"We all had an eight-hour class in it," King said of the instruction provided by a Williamson County Sheriff's deputy.

Cornersville Police Officer Jason Lee also attended and volunteered to be stunned with the Taser. A video of the training session shows Lee's reaction. His muscles tightened. He was unable to move and Chapel Hill Police caught him as he started to fall. They lowered him slowly to the floor.

Tasers shoot two metal darts tethered by bare wire so the stun gun's power source can discharge the shock to the darts, which have a barb near the tip. They enter the flesh and, because bodies are mostly water, the charge is conducted from one dart to the other.

The pistol-shaped law enforcement tool also sends a red laser beam to show where the darts are to hit. Police are trained to shout "Taser, Taser, Taser," before firing. The notoriety of the brand name apparently allowed only the threat of its use to accomplish the officer's purpose since Tasers were issued to Chapel Hill policemen.

"One was displayed to a subject who'd run from the county (sheriff's deputy) underneath a house trailer," King said. "My officer shined a flash light where he found him and then put the red dot on him saying 'Taser, Taser, Taser.'

"The man said, 'I don't need that,'" King said, "so he came out.

"I have an officer who about two to three months ago had a young man who wanted to fight him off," King said. "This right here could have been a deterrent."

The charge lasts five seconds when it's discharged through the darts, the chief said. Tasers can also be used without the darts and then the charge is sent between two short arms at the end of what might be called the muzzle part of the stun gun. Under those conditions, the Taser must be held on a suspect's body.

"I've checked our insurance policy, the Tennessee Municipal League and other departments," King said. "The other departments say it's the best tool they've ever had."

It's better than pepper spray or other chemical agents, he said.

"Some people aren't affected by pepper spray," King said.

Frequently, violent offenders are under the influence of pain reducing narcotics, the chief said. Pepper spray or other "pain compliant tactics" have no effect on offenders who feel no pain.

Tasers "act on the involuntary nervous system, seizing the muscles of any person, even if paid reducing narcotics have been used," he said.

Police trained in how to use Tasers included King, Lee and Officers Marion Kincade, Chris Speck, Chad Grissom and Sgt. Chris Cook, King said.