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Fri, Feb. 28

Taser/stun gun latest addition to Chino Valley police weapons

Chino Valley police officer, Sergeant Mark Garcia, said people have been expressing curiosity about the new weapon officers are wearing.

Review/Michele Kramer

Chino Valley police officer Eric Hatchell with the department's new Taser unit attached to his belt and left thigh. The versatile Taser holster can be worn on either leg and the gun itself can be set in the holster for either left or right handed access. The unit is also equipped with a carrying case for two extra Taser cartridges.

"I've had folks ask me if we're carrying two guns now," Garcia said.

The latest apparatus adorning officers' belts is a gun of sorts – a stun gun that shoots electricity instead of bullets.

CVPD's latest weapon, th the Taser, delivers a 50,000 bolt electric current that interrupts neuromuscular signals in the brain causing muscles to contract uncontrollably.

The weapon is equipped with a retractable cartridge containing two barbed darts on the end of two 21-foot lengths of insulated copper wire. When triggered, the darts explode out of the cartridge at 120 mph and lodge into skin or clothing, transmitting a five-second electrical jolt. The Taser can also be used at zero range by removing the dart cartridge and applying the gun directly to the skin or clothing.

Considered a less-lethal alternative to guns, the Taser has become increasingly popular with law enforcement agencies throughout the country since Scottsdale-based, Taser International, hit the market six years ago.

According to the company, one-third of law enforcement agencies in the United States now use Tasers and as of two months ago, CVPD is one of them.

Each of CVPD's 22 full-time officers received taser training before the guns were used in the field and Officer Eric Hatchell was one of several officers who was "tasered" in the course of the instruction.

"I was a little shaky right after the shock but it didn't last long," Hatchell said. "As soon as the electricity stops the discomfort stops."

Hatchell said he felt no pain when the barbs hit him and only a slight amount when they were removed.

"The electricity is already flowing by the time the electrodes make contact with the skin," he said, "so I didn't feel anything but the jolt."

Garcia explained that once a suspect has been hit with the Taser and the darts have been embedded, an officer can control the suspect by pulling the Taser trigger and re-jolting the suspect as needed.

Hatchell compared the wound in the skin, where the darts enter, to a bee sting.

Sergeant Garcia, who was exposed to the Taser's electrical current in training, described the experience as not exactly painful, but very uncomfortable and one he's not likely to soon forget.

"Even the sound of the Taser being activated brings back the feeling," Garcia said.

Each time the Taser is discharged, hundreds of bits of confetti litter the ground as proof of its use. Additionally, a computer chip, placed inside the Taser, allows police to monitor how and when the weapon is used.

Garcia said the Taser rests just about midway in the CVPD's Use of Force Continuum that lets officers know how much force they can use to gain control of a situation.

"Our first deterrent is simply our presence," Garcia said. "Next, we would use voice control and then hand restraints before using the Taser."

More debilitating weapons – pepper spray, batons, bean bag rounds or firearms – are at the high end of the force continuum.

CVPD's three Tasers, shared with Animal Control and costing about $900-a-piece, have been used to respond to three different situations since debuting in the field in early April.

"The Taser performed successfully in all instances," Garcia said.

In the first instance, an officer used the Taser to fend off a vicious dog.

"In that case, the officer would have been justified in destroying the animal," Garcia said. "Had we not had the Taser, it's quite likely the dog would have been destroyed."

The second time the Taser was used was to subdue a drunk-driving suspect. When the suspect ripped the darts out of his body and refused to get into a patrol car, the officer detached the Taser cartridge and pressed the gun against the suspect's body and discharged it. The suspect got into the patrol car.

"He wanted a fight," Garcia said of the suspect, "but we were able to take him into custody without anyone getting hurt."

This past Tuesday, officers tasered a suicidal man brandishing a knife.

"He dropped like a rock," Garcia said.

Garcia said less-lethal weapons are on the rise in law enforcement because they help reduce injuries to both suspects and officers and they decrease incidences of deadly force.

"Our goal is to take someone into custody without anybody getting hurt," Garcia said.

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