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Mass. TASER stunner: Cops divided on gun
By Laurel J. Sweet
Sunday, January 16, 2005

Six months after back-to-back fatal shootings by Boston police sparked the ``emergency'' legalization of TASERs for law enforcers, the stun gun is drawing more static than interest from wary cops.

``I'm not diving in, no thanks,'' Bellingham police Chief Gerard Daigle said of the ``non-lethal'' weapon which, feared to be behind the deaths of some six dozen people since 2001, is under investigation by federal authorities.

Lawrence police have purchased five TASERs and campus cops at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst are preparing to place an order. But the Bay State's biggest forces - Boston, state and MBTA police - are keeping clear of the electric sidearm, whose 50,000-volt jolt is nearly 25 times that of an electric chair.

Secretary of Public Safety Edward Flynn, who has developed a six-point plan to ensure police are schooled in when to use a stun gun - not just how to use one - has yet to receive a training proposal from a single department.

``We're aware of the technology,'' said MBTA Deputy Chief Paul MacMillan. ``In the near future we will be evaluating its viability in a transit environment.''

Boston police Officer Michael McCarthy said his department has ``no standing order'' for TASERs. Last fall, Hub cops fell under fire for killing Red Sox fan Victoria Snelgrove, 21, with a ``less-lethal'' pepper-ball gun while trying to quell a crowd at Fenway Park.

State police are forming a committee to examine whether stun guns are ethical and safe.

``As of yet, we've made no decision,'' said Trooper Thomas Ryan.

Arizona-based TASER International claims 6,000 law-enforcement entities in 40 countries swear by its product, which causes subjects to lose muscle control when shot with two electrically charged darts.

TASER does have its fans. In the first six months of last year, police in Cincinnati reached for the stun gun 300 times. Noting a 70 percent drop in arrest-related injuries to cops, Lt. Douglas Ventre called his department's experience with TASER ``overwhelmingly positive.''

But as TASER's stock value sinks amid wave after wave of wrongful-death lawsuits, Bay State police appear stun-gun shy.

``I know the days of the billy club are gone,'' Daigle said, ``but to me there's a lot of what-ifs.''

TASER International spokesman Steve Tuttle contends, ``There has not been a medical examiner to date that has listed TASER technology as a direct or primary cause of death.

``At the end of the day, when the baton, the pepper spray and the K-9 don't work, you've got yourself a mess. The intent of the device is to save lives.''

Lawrence police Chief John J. Romero, formerly a major with the New York City Police Department, believes TASERs are ``a great tool when used properly. Our intent is to use it in place of lethal force, which is rare.''

Some 24,000 students are enrolled at UMass Amherst and campus police Sgt. Ian Cyr said, ``We deal with a whole variety of behaviors. You don't need a reason for lethal force if you've got TASER.''

The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts is not outright opposed to TASERs, ``But we need to know more,'' said staff attorney Sarah Wunsch. ``There's at least some question being raised about how safe they are. It doesn't mean they're inherently a bad weapon, but that doesn't mean the public shouldn't be asking some hard questions.''
 

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The other side of this is dealers in MA can't sell them so there's little support for TASER in MA. What has to happen with this type of legislation is that if cops can use or buy it, dealers in MA should be able to sell it.

We've sold maybe 2000+ tasers when I was located down south, I have been tased a couple times and can teach classes...USELESS in MA because the police can barely use them let alone dealers being able to sell them.

What pisses me off even more...dealers from OUTSIDE the state can sell tasers into MA now...but since we are in MA we can't...it's like that for guns, magazines, all kinds of stuff and it kills me.
 
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