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Area police cautious on Taser use

By Maureen Boyle, Enterprise staff writer
As Raynham police prepare to order a dozen stun guns, other local departments say they are not ready to arm officers with the weapons just yet, and a national group of police chiefs is urging caution in their use.

"We think we are better served to hold off right now," Brockton Police Chief Paul Studenski said.

The day after Raynham voters agreed on Feb. 15 to spend $12,000 to outfit uniformed officers with Taser brand stun guns, Studenski and other chiefs in the area said they plan to do more research on the weapons and see what problems, if any, Raynham authorities have with the guns.

"I would rather wait until I see how it works out there," Studenski said.

Stoughton Deputy Police Chief Christopher Ciampa said his department is also being cautious.

"They're a great tool, but right now we are still researching them. We don't have any plans now to buy them," Ciampa said.

The hesitancy to embrace stun guns comes as the International Association of Chiefs of Police urged police departments to review how they use stun guns following reports the weapons may be tied to deaths, said Wendy Balazik, a spokeswoman for the association.

She said the group will issue a report in upcoming days to help police departments use the weapons safely.

"We want them to be cautious," Balazik said. "We know they are going to be using them and we are urging police to be careful and to get up to speed on everything."

She said the report will offer suggestions on how to use stun guns safely.

"We will be saying, here are some pointers ... Here is how to set things up," Balazik said.

However, concerns about the weapons will not block Raynham's plans to buy Taser brand stun guns by July and the department plans to use the weapons with caution, Raynham Deputy Police Chief Louis J. Pacheco said.

"We will take the best rules and the safest rules and incorporate them in our use," Pacheco said. "This won't effect our decision."

But continued worries about stun gun safety is giving Brockton police pause in adopting use of the weapons, Studenski said.

"There is an awful lot involved in this," he sad. "I think a little bit of prudence and patience is the way to look at this item."

East Bridgewater Chief John Cowan said there are no plans to arm his officers with stun guns at this time.

"It isn't anything we really looked into and discussed," he said. "It isn't something we would be doing right now."

The Raynham force is the first in the state to approve the use of stun guns by officers.

Raynham Police Chief Peter King said he has been a supporter of the weapons since the 1980s, before the weapons were initially banned in the state.

King said he had been jolted with the older weapons and believes it is a good tool for police in subduing suspects.

"It only hurts for five seconds," he said.

Raynham police were outfitted in 1986 but were forced to stop using the weapons when the state banned their use that same year.

Gov. Mitt Romney signed legislation on July 15, 2004, that allows law enforcement agencies to use the weapons, revoking a state ban. Only police officers can carry stun guns.

Taser stun guns fire two dart-like probes with wires that can hit a target up to 21 feet away and deliver a 50,000-volt burst of electricity, incapacitating a suspect long enough for police to put on handcuffs.

Supporters of the weapon say it gives police a less-than-lethal alternative for subduing some suspects. Critics say police may be tempted to abuse the weapons because the guns do not leave physical injuries.

There have been a flurry of lawsuits filed across the country, including one filed in Long Island, alleging stun guns either caused or contributed to deaths.

Amnesty International, a human rights group, said more than 50 people died since 1999 after being shocked with stun guns, a claim denied by the Taser company. The American Civil Liberties Union has raised concerns about the weapons.

Chicago police last week stopped the distribution of 100 more Tasers to officers until an investigation into the use of the weapon on two people, including a 54-year-old man who later died, is complete.

Raynham's deputy chief said he is confident the Taser weapons will be a plus for the department and the town.

"Obviously, they are controversial and we are going to do every possible thing to ensure they are used according to state guidelines," Pacheco said.

He said the weapons will help prevent both officer and suspect injuries.

"It is not a crime-fighting tool. It is for homicidal, suicidal type people and is another way to deal with them," he said. "We carried them before in the mid-80s and they were an excellent, excellent tool."
 
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