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Stun guns to get trial run at EPD.

Byline: Rebecca Nolan The Register-Guard

Tasers will soon join the nearly 30 pounds of equipment Eugene police officers now carry on their belts.

The police department is planning to train and equip about 35 of its 180 officers with the 50,000-volt Taser X26 as part of a pilot program.

Department officials will use information gathered during the four- to six-month experiment to decide whether to make the stun guns a permanent addition to the agency's arsenal of less-than-lethal weaponry, which already includes pepper spray, beanbag rounds and collapsible batons.

Springfield and Junction City police already carry the device.

Eugene police have considered buying Tasers in the past, but put it off due to ongoing controversy regarding the stun guns' safety and concerns about their possible abuse.

But the community and the police union urged the agency to move forward after Eugene officers shot and killed a 19-year-old mentally ill man in November as he approached them with a kitchen knife. Ryan Salisbury ignored officers' orders to drop the weapon, and several beanbag rounds had failed to stop him.

"I do believe that the use of Tasers offered a substantial possibility, if not probability, of saving my son's life," said Jeff Salisbury, father of the young man. "It seems to me it would have been fairly possible that a Taser discharge would have totally disabled him."

Jeff Salisbury and his wife, Denise, spoke Thursday at a meeting of the Eugene Police Commission's use of force committee, which will help the police department develop a policy to govern officers' use of Tasers during the pilot program.

The process could take several months, and Taser-equipped officers would not hit the streets until it's completed, police said.

Thanks to a federal Justice Assistance Grant, the department already has the money to buy the 25 Tasers needed for the project, plus accessories, including four TaserCams - small cameras that record video and audio each time the device is turned on.

The pilot project is expected to cost about $30,000, said Sgt. Kevin McCormick, who is in charge of the effort.

The plan is to have two Taser-trained officers on duty at all times, McCormick said.

Police agencies across the country have reported dramatic drops in deadly force incidents and injuries after implementing Tasers.

The devices can do that because they allow officers to deal with violent people without resorting to lethal force or putting themselves in harm's way, according to Arizona-based manufacturer Taser International.

More than 7,000 police agencies in the United States and overseas use the Taser, which fires two probes - like fish hooks - into the clothes or skin of the unruly person. Insulated wire links the probes to the Taser unit. Officers can administer a 50,000-volt jolt from up to 25 feet away. The device can also be applied directly to the skin.

The person being "tased" loses muscular control and experiences excruciating pain that does not linger once the pulse ends.

Since their introduction, Tasers have been blamed for deaths across the country. Many of those who die are later found to have medical conditions or high levels of drugs in their systems.

On Thursday night, McCormick fired a Taser on loan from a sporting goods shop into a foil-covered target. Blue sparks flickered in the area between the probes, making an electrical crackling sound.

Each time a Taser is fired, the device records the date, time and duration of the discharges. Each cartridge contains about 30 confetti-like identification tags that scatter when fired. The tags are printed with a number that can be traced back to the person or agency that bought the cartridge.

McCormick said the devices would only be used on people who are physically resisting officers, or who look like they're about to get violent. They would not be used to gain compliance or to control peaceful protests.

The police commission's use of force committee will help evaluate data from the experiment and will comment on any final policy should the department choose to add the stun guns to its permanent catalog.
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Title Annotation:Crime; The police department will train about 35 officers on Tasers for the pilot program
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Apr 20, 2007
Words:677
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