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Local police looking to use 'less lethal' force
By MATT MURPHY, Sun Staff
Lowell police training Officer Robert Dyer displays the X26 Taser gun at a weapons demonstration at the Cross Point training center in June. SUN/ BOB WHITAKER


DEVENS -- At least two local police departments are on the verge of adding Tasers to their arsenal, but are heeding the advice of experts who caution that law enforcers should be well- trained before they start using the electronic weapon.

More than 100 Massachusetts law-enforcement officials, including Lowell Police Superintendent Edward Davis and Pepperell Police Chief Alan Davis, attended a conference at the Devens Common Center yesterday to hear to advice on the best strategy for implementing Tasers in their departments.

Both said the weapon, which temporarily disables a suspect using an electrical charge, will be a valuable tool for their street officers as a less lethal alternative to firearms.

The seminar, sponsored by the state Executive Office of Public Safety, brought together legal and law-enforcement officals to discuss the use of less lethal force. The discussion centered primarily on Tasers, a stun gun manufactured by Taser International of Scottsdale, Ariz.

Tasers are used by more than 5,000 law-enforcement agencies across the country, but only became legal in Massachusetts in July 2004. Framingham and Greenfield are the only two communtiies in the commonwealth currently authorized to carry Tasers.

The electronic gun fires two probes from up to 21 feet that can paralyze a suspect for up to five seconds by administering an electrical shock of 50,000 volts, overwhelming the target's central nervous system.

Suspects are supposed to recover from the shock almost immediately, but about 120 to 150 in-custody deaths have occurred after a Taser was used. Most of those deaths have been linked to pre-existing conditons such as drug abuse, heart failure or respiratory illness, but officials yesterday cautioned that any use of force has the potential to be deadly.

"This is not a substitute for lethal force. It's an early option that can hopefully stop a situation from escalating to where greater force is needed," said Lt. Jay Kehoe, a officer from Malborough, Conn., who does marketing and training for Taser International.

Even the company spokesman urged police chiefs in attendance to do their own research on the weapon before purchasing Taser guns for their departments.

The speakers encouraged police chiefs to fully understand what the electronic weapons can and cannot do before deploying them in the streets. Police departments should work with the community to carefully develop training programs and protocol for when to use a Taser before purchasing the weapons, they said.

Lowell Chief Davis said he has been studying the issues surrounding Taser guns for several years, and should have a proposal ready early next year.

"We have to be very cautious on their use and make sure they're regulated properly," he said. "The thing that has been holding us up has been policy."

Police officers make decisions on when and how much force to use depending on the threat posed by an individual suspect. Davis anticpates a policy that would put Tasers somewhere between pepper spray and a firearm on the spectrum of justified force.

While Tasers have been shown to reduce fatal police shootings and injuries to police officers and suspects in cities from Seattle to Miami, there is also the threat that police officers will rely too heavily on the less lethal weapon.

"There are several incidents each year where I'm convinced that had the Taser not been there, we would have shot somebody," said William O'Toole, the assistant police chief for Mongomery County, Md. "There are also incidents where we might not have had to use any force at all."

That's why establishing a detailed training program and protocol for weapon use is crucial, he said.

Davis said it is unlikely a Taser could have prevented the fatal shooting of Andrew Clancy in Lowell last Christmas Eve because the teenager was actively threatening an officer and could not be kept at a safe distance.

But Boston Police Commissioner Kathleen O'Toole admitted that inadequate training likely contributed to the shooting death of Emerson College student Victoria Snelgrove last October during a Red Sox playoff celebration outside Fenway Park.

Snelgrove was struck in the eye by a pepper-spray shot that Boston police believed to be nonlethal and incapable of penetrating a target.

"The officers using the device had no clue what it could do," O'Toole said. "The officers truly believed they had something in their hands similar to a paintball device. If we had more adequate training they would have known." Pepperell Chief Davis said he researched the Taser for more than a year and sent two officers to be trained with the weapon. He hopes to adopt a department training policy in the next month, and purchase up to three Tasers --at $1,000 a piece -- for Pepperell police after the New Year. "It's a force option that's important as technolgy changes to give our officers," Davis said.
 

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Any one know how framingham and Greenfield got thier Officers and and department certified by the state to carry tasers ?????//
 

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But Boston Police Commissioner Kathleen O'Toole admitted that inadequate training likely contributed to the shooting death of Emerson College student Victoria Snelgrove last October during a Red Sox playoff celebration outside Fenway Park.

Snelgrove was struck in the eye by a pepper-spray shot that Boston police believed to be nonlethal and incapable of penetrating a target.

"The officers using the device had no clue what it could do," O'Toole said. "The officers truly believed they had something in their hands similar to a paintball device. If we had more adequate training they would have known."
Let's think about this comment. Even if it was a paintball device, should you shoot someone in the face with it?
 

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Woggalicious!
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According to O'Toole ( I was at the conference too) she said they weren't aiming for the head, but they didnt know they could put an eye out with it???
 
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