Less-lethal law enforcement
GLENWOOD SPRINGS Joe Lemoine knelt down on the blue mat and took a deep breath.”It’ll only hurt for about five seconds,” a sheriff’s deputy said.”Taser! Taser!” Sheriff’s Deputy Robert Glassmire yelled before shooting him in the back. Two probes powered by a burst of nitrogen propellant flew from the Taser gun at over 160 feet per second and hooked into the skin of his back through his T-shirt. The tips of the probes look like miniature harpoons nearly a centimeter long.Lemoine’s body stiffened. Wires from the Taser gun pumped around 1,500 volts of electricity through his body at a current of around two to three milliamperes. He let out a growl. Two deputies lowered him by his arms face down to the mat. He lay there tense and mostly motionless during the five-second shock, his face taking on a reddish hue.Then it was done.
Everybody goes through itEach new sheriff’s deputy, like Lemoine, gets Tased in the back and pepper sprayed in the face for training. It’s meant to increase restraint and judgment. Sheriff Lou Vallario himself said he’s also been Tased.”It hurt like hell,” he said. “I dropped like a rock, but got up five minutes later and walked away.”The sheriff’s office began using Tasers around 2003, Vallario said, and has used them only about four times in jail and five or six times on patrol. Equipping deputies with Tasers wasn’t a response to changing criminal activity, but rather to have another option that the vast majority of the time keeps law enforcement officers, citizens and suspects safer, he said.Pepper spray can cause a burning pain, closing of the eyes, coughing and temporary blindness for about 30 or 45 minutes, with lingering effects lasting for several hours. Plus it can come back in the shower days later when it drips from the hair.”Pepper spray is the gift that keeps on giving,” Garfield County Sheriff’s Detective Eric Ashworth said.Deputies said pepper spray can be better for situations where multiple people are involved, like a bar fight, but that people have a greater chance of fighting through pepper spray than they do when hit with a Taser shock – especially if they’re on stimulants like methamphetamines.Rifle Police Chief Daryl Meisner said his department doesn’t use pepper spray because they found it to be ineffective. People are able to fight through it, its use creates cross-contamination in people other than the target and using it requires subjects to be cleaned, he said. Rifle began equipping its officers with Tasers around 2003 or 2004, Meisner said.”Statistically we were finding the injury rate for suspects and officers is significantly reduced,” he said. Silt Police Chief Paul Taylor said his department just bought two Taser guns early February. New officers from larger police departments had recommended and petitioned for Tasers, saying that they have often been able to defuse a situation just by pulling out a Taser.Bean bags and sponge roundsBean-bag rounds are shot out of a 12-gauge shotgun. The round itself is a small tear-shaped sack filled with lead shot. These are normally better for standoff situations and can reach longer distances. Samuel Lincoln, who faces an attempted murder charge in an upcoming trial, was brought down by sponge rounds during an arrest outside a West Glenwood motel. Sponge rounds are similar to bean bag rounds but are fired from a 40-millimeter launcher.Lincoln was armed with two guns when he tried to leave via the motel’s back exit. Vallario said there were two snipers with lethal ammunitionaiming at Lincoln, and “if he’d so much as reached for a gun, that would have been the end of his story.”Theory of the TaserThe theory behind less-lethal weapons like Tasers, pepper spray, bean-bag and rounds is to have a tool to get people to comply without having to fight or use a weapon, resulting in fewer injuries. Tasers have received criticism and created some backlash for law enforcement. The American Civil Liberties Union has said that between 1999 and 2006, 148 deaths occurred after people have been shocked with Tasers in the U.S. and Canada. Others say that the deaths were typically a result of drug use or other complicating factors like medical conditions, and that Tasers have been used safely tens of thousands of times. Complaints often involve claims of law enforcement using Tasers when they aren’t necessary.”In this litigious society, there will always be people that challenge anything that the government uses,” Meisner said, adding that a wave of similar complaints were initially made about the use of pepper spray.
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