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Editorial: Taser should spark fear

Some people are interpreting the Salisbury Police Department’s purchase of four Tasers as a sign, and it is ó a sign that the department is being cautious. While thousands of law enforcement agencies have used Tasers for years, Salisbury has been slow to add the device to its arsenal. Police should be very selective about the Tasers’ use.
Unlike most stun guns that have to touch a person to deliver their punch, the Taser works up to 35 feet away. It shoots small probes carrying electrical pulses, delivering an incapacitating jolt. A number of highly publicized deaths have followed Taser use. In public safety circles, however, the device is considered far safer than other methods of subduing dangerous, combative subjects, such as gunfire or hands-on force. If the officers who carry them are well-trained in Taser use, the devices can protect officers and suspects from serious injury.
The Rowan County Sheriff’s Office has been buying a few Tasers a year for the past four or five years and now has about 16 of them, Sheriff George Wilhelm says. They are assigned to officers on the Special Response Team, at the Detention Center, in the courts and on patrol. So far this year, Wilhelm says, officers have deployed Tasers seven times in the Detention Center and three times on patrol.
The Taser’s detractors fear that police will resort to using it too readily and with fatal results. The American Civil Liberties Union has called for a ban, and Amnesty International ó citing 277 Taser-related deaths ósays use of Tasers can be a form of torture, in violation of the U.N. Convention Against Torture. But some research has supported the Taser’s use. An independent, nationwide study carried out by emergency medicine researchers at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine found that 99.7 percent of the 1,000 cases reviewed had no injuries or only mild injuries such as scrapes and bruises. Three people suffered injuries that required hospitalization; two had head injuries from their falls and a third was treated days after arrest with a condition “of unclear relationship to the Taser.”
Sheriff Wilhelm says he’d like to see a study of how effective Tasers are at subduing people when officers merely threaten to use them. The Taser is a scary-looking weapon, and the jolt it delivers is powerful. It may work best when regarded with fear all around ó used only as a last resort by officers and considered “to be avoided” by people police are trying to subdue.

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