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02-22-04: Police try Rockford’s new weapon


ROCKFORD — Police officers training this past weekend saw Rockford Police Chief Paul May get zapped with a 50,000-volt Taser.
The Rockford department has added the non-lethal stun gun to its arsenal. Taser instructors and other area law enforcement officials met in Rockford on Saturday to train with the electrified weapons.
Tasers were added in 2001 at the Lima Police Department after a standoff with police ended in the shooting death of a man who pulled a knife on police, Lima Sgt. Chip Protsman said. Protsman helped lead the training session.
In Lima, the Tasers are an acceptable use of force after empty-handed control of a perpetrator fails. “We can use it the same as mace,” to control a criminal suspect, Protsman said.
The Taser also can be fired at a fleeing suspect, unlike traditional firearms, and has a reach of about 21 feet.
In direct, hand-to-hand grappling, the Taser can be applied directly to the skin to deliver an incapacitating jolt. At a distance, the Taser can fire long electrified probes with barbed ends that easily stick in clothing — or flesh — to deliver a similar shock.
The technology that makes a Taser work is secret proprietary technology of Taser International Inc., but is called Electro-Muscular Disruption. A company statement says the technology allows officers to “physically debilitate a target regardless of pain tolerance or mental focus.”
The Taser is designed to safely incapacitate someone who is fleeing, resisting or threatening a police officer, Protsman said. The shock renders victims unable to do anything; all sensory functions essentially are stopped, he said.
The Taser also should not be used to match up against deadly force. Cops need to know when to holster their Tasers and reach for their real guns, Protsman said.
An unofficial police motto regarding the Taser is, if a suspect “paid their admission, give them the ride.”
May took that ride Saturday, agreeing to be hit with the barbed probes and zapped for a full five seconds. Protsman shot May squarely in the back and the Rockford chief promptly tensed up, and collapsed, making only a quick groaning sound after he was first hit. He didn’t writhe on the ground, instead curling toward a fetal position with his muscles completely contracted.
The former United States Marine said nothing he endured during bootcamp could compare to the five-second blast of energy.
“Nothing close,” May said only minutes after the shocking experience. “There was nothing I could do. You can’t even think. After two seconds, I was thinking, ‘Is this ever going to end?’ ”
May said the jolt makes it easy to see why almost all suspects comply with police orders after getting zapped.
“After it’s over, you think, Thank goodness. What do you want me to do now?,’” May said.
The new Taser M26 units were in service over the weekend in Rockford, but May reported this morning that his officers did not get to try out the new equipment yet. Despite numerous traffic stops during the weekend, including someone wanted on a felony warrant, everyone complied with police orders and no one had to be electrically subdued.
Rockford paid about $1,500 for two Taser units and the training session. The money came from the police equipment fund which is generated through a portion of mayor’s court proceeds.
Also present at Saturday’s training session were members of the Mercer County Sheriff’s Office, Auglaize County Sheriff’s Office and police departments from Celina, Wapakoneta, Van Wert and Portland, Ind. Among that group, only the Auglaize County Sheriff’s Office now uses Tasers.
Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey said the demonstration piqued his interest, but also raised some concerns about practical use of the Taser on the streets. For now, though, the sheriff’s office won’t be getting Tasers for one simple reason.
“I don’t have any money,” Grey said, adding that he would want to further study Tasers and gauge their use in the field before making a decision.


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