A shocking experience for officers | AspenTimes.com

A shocking experience for officers

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Some peace officers got a taste of their own medicine yesterday in a training course on newly issued “less lethal” weapons.

The ongoing training to use the M26 Advanced Tasers has included some volunteers getting zapped to learn more about the weaponry. Several police officers said it was the most pain they had ever experienced.

“Without a doubt it was the most painful thing I’ve ever felt,” said Joe DiSalvo, Pitkin County head of investigations. “And there was a concussion feeling that went with it. It was as if something really heavy was hitting you while it was shocking your spine.”

DiSalvo experienced the taser in the exact way it will be used: A peace officer fires the taser at a suspect, and two small darts, each a quarter of an inch long, fly out of the weapon attached to thin wires. The points penetrate the suspect’s skin and deliver 55,000 volts of electricity.

DiSalvo said he had two red welts on his back and that he still felt a burning sensation later in the day. Other officers who volunteered to experience the less-lethal weapon had the needles taped to them to feel the effects of the voltage.

“It felt like I was getting punched in the back at 50 times a second,” said officer Ian McAyeal. “It was totally incapacitating, and I didn’t know what to think or do. I could feel my whole body jolting, and I could hear myself screaming, but you had no control over anything.”

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The weapons, being integrated into both the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office and the Aspen Police Department, are examples of new methods of force being used by police. According to Sheriff’s Office Investigator Ron Ryan, use of a taser would come between taking a suspect down by tightly gripping their arm and using punches or a baton.

“It’s for use if someone continues to resist, and they have already ignored verbal commands,” he said.

The tasers are being used in the cockpits of United Airlines planes and by the Denver Police Department, Ryan said. The Los Angeles Police Department is also upgrading to use them.

There are no long-term effects from the tasers, nor permanent harm, Ryan said. The only injuries reported are secondary, such as falling after being struck with the taser.

“I went into training determined to resist the effects of it,” Ryan said, noting that when he was struck, the voltage knocked him over. “I believe that you can build faith in the fact [the taser] will work for you when you need it to by experiencing what it feels like. With a tool like this where there are no permanent effects, there’s no reason not to experience it.”

Other new weapons being instigated by local peace officers include “beanbag” rounds for the shotguns used by deputies, and a “net gun” that fires ropes to entangle a suspect and throw him or her to the ground. The tools are meant to be more effective than verbal persuasion.

The net gun has an effective range of 30 feet, and the beanbag rounds are similar to those used to scare off bears and other wildlife.