Vail police to carry Tasers
October 29, 2007
VAIL ” Witnesses said a naked man was running around outside an apartment building with a weapon and was knocking on people’s doors recently, Eagle County Sheriff’s Deputy Bob Silva said.
When Silva arrived, his sergeant was waiting outside the man’s apartment.
Suddenly the 25-year-old unarmed man ran outside the apartment. His gun drawn, the sergeant ordered the man on the ground.
But the man ran toward the sergeant waving his arms, saying, “‘What are you going to do, shoot me?'” Silva said.
The sergeant pushed the man back and yelled at him to stop, but the man wouldn’t listen, Silva said.
“He wanted to scrap,” Silva said.
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So Silva fired his Taser at the man, who dropped on the ground.
Like other police, Silva thinks Tasers keep police and suspects safe. The electrical current from the prongs attached to 25-foot-long wire temporarily paralyzes a person’s muscles and causes no lasting damage, unlike a baton or a gun could, police say.
That’s one reason the Vail Town Council last week voted unanimously to allow Vail police to carry Tasers, the dominant brand of electro-shock devices.
The Taser is a safe alternative to the night stick and pepper spray, Town Councilman Mark Gordon said.
“I’m a firm believer in trying to preserve the safety of all Vail police officers as well as the people they come in contact with,” Gordon said.
Vail has paid more than $148,000 to officers injured on the job from January 2003 to September 2007, according to a Vail Police Department report to town councilors.
A number of people confronted by police use drugs, alcohol or are mentally ill, and those factors increase tolerance to pain, making pepper spray and use of batons less effective, the report says.
Two officers have left the force due to injuries, said Vail police Administrative Cmdr. Steve Wright.
Wright declined to say which officers were injured and how, or the extent of their injuries, citing privacy law.
The Tasers and other equipment will cost more than $13,000, which will come from money Vail police have seized from drug investigations.
More than half of police departments in the United States carry them, the Vail police report says.
Tasers ” and similar electro-shock devices ” caused 17 deaths during arrests from 2003 to 2005 in the United States, according to a U.S. Department of Justice report released earlier this month.
Since the middle of 2001, Amnesty International has counted more than 270 people who died after they were struck by a Taser (or several hours later), said Jason Opena Disterhoft, human rights campaigner for the non-profit organization.
The people who have died tend to have had heart problems or are drug users. Police do not know whether or not people with those afflictions could withstand an electric shock, he said.
Amnesty International supports the use of non-lethal weapons by police, but they should not be able to carry electro-shock devices until more research is done on the new technology, he said.
“The bottom line is we don’t know yet,” Disterhoft said. “The jury’s still out about the safety of Tasers. There hasn’t yet been a comprehensive independent rigorous study of the effects.”
The U.S. Justice Department has been studying electro-shock devices for more than a year now and should release its findings soon, Disterhoft said.
“We’re definitely keeping an eye on that and we have high hopes for it,” he said.
The use of Tasers by Vail police would be nothing new to the valley. Eagle County sheriff’s deputies and Avon police already carry them (so do Aspen police, for that matter.)
When dealing with an unruly suspect, sheriff’s deputies first try to talk with a suspect, said Kim Andree, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office.
Failing that, a sheriff’s deputy will give loud verbal commands, then they will try to restrain the suspect, then Tasers, batons or pepper spray could be used, and finally, handguns, she said.
Sheriff’s deputies have fired their Tasers on four suspects since January, said Shannon Cordingly, spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office.
Avon police have used their Tasers twice this year, said Chief Brian Kozak. Police use pressure points and open-handed blows first, he said.
Vail police will use them only when a “violent, aggressive, combative” suspect confronts them, Wright said.
Vail police will develop policies and will do a significant amount of training to make sure police use them properly, he said.
“All of that will be in place before you ever see a Vail officer carrying a Taser,” Wright said.