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Officials get jolt out of training
Sunday, April 03, 2005
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WESTFIELD - Bruce D. Stratford grimaced this week as a 50,000-volt burst of electricity shot through his body.

Stratford, one of 16 law enforcement agency officials attending a two-day training session on the use of Taser stun guns, volunteered Wednesday to receive a five-second demonstration jolt from one of the devices soon to be available to statewide to law enforcement agencies that have had usage and training protocols approved by the state Executive Office of Public Safety.

The state Legislature voted last summer to allow police officers statewide to carry Tasers. It's still illegal in Massachusetts for citizens to own or carry them.

A state correctional officer at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Stratford remained silent through his ordeal although his knees buckled and he likely would have fallen to the floor if it weren't for two colleagues firmly grasping his arms to keep him upright.

What does it feel like?

"Like 50,000 volts are going through your body," Stratford said afterwards with a wry smile, adding, however, that the painful jolt had no lasting effects. "When it's gone, you are done, you are normal."

Stratford was not the only one to face the business end of the Taser over the course of the session held at the Air National Guard 104th Fighter Wing Base at Barnes Municipal Airport. In all, a dozen of the attendees, including police officers from Westfield, Chester and Pelham volunteered to be zapped.

"It's hard to describe," Westfield Police Lt. Paul Kousch said of the immobilizing sensation. "Your whole central nervous system tenses up and you become rigid."

Officer Raymond M. Minor, an instructor for Taser and a member of the Glastonbury Police Department, said there's been no shortage of volunteers for his training sessions throughout the region.

"Most want the full five seconds because they want to understand what it is like," Minor said.

That five second zap, which the Taser delivers in the field with two dart-like probes with wires that snag the target up to 21 feet away, can make all the difference in safely subduing a struggling suspect, Minor said.

"Officer injuries go down, suspect injuries go down and the departments save millions," Minor said.

Kousch and the other officers attending the training were clearly sold on the advantages of adding the weapon to their arsenals.

Several years ago three Westfield police officers suffered injuries, ultimately costing the city over $45,000 in medical bills and lost time while subduing a violent suspect.

"If we had this available to us then it would have cut that out entirely," Kousch said. "Without a doubt it's an excellent tool."

"It's really the wave of the future," said Pelham Police Chief Edward B. Fleury, who also attended the session.

Tasers now in widespread use by law enforcement agencies throughout the country, have generated controversy with some questioning their safety - even linking them to in-custody deaths.

Taser representatives, however say that numerous medical studies have shown Taser technology to be relatively safe.

"While we understand the concerns of the public concerning the topic of in-custody deaths following Taser usage, there are medical experts who dispute the few cases, out of tens of thousands of life-saving uses, where a Taser device has been cited as a contributing factor to an in-custody death," Steve Tuttle, vice-president of communications at Taser International, said Thursday. "What we do know is that Tasers continue to prevent numerous injuries and save lives every day."

Sgt. Robert J. Gould, another state correctional officer from Shirley attending the session, said he received his jolt with no qualms even though he had open-heart surgery as a child.

"The electricity doesn't linger in the body," Minor said.

Katie Ford, spokeswoman for the state Executive Office of Public Safety, said yesterday that police departments seeking to outfit their officers with Tasers must first submit their protocols for approval.

To date only the Greenfield Police Department and another smaller department elsewhere in the state have done so, Ford said. The department is expected to issue it decision to Greenfield in about a month, Ford said.

Meanwhile, Police Chief John A. Camerota and Springfield Police Chief Paula C. Meara are among the Western Massachusetts police chiefs who have said they are interested in outfitting their officers with the devices.

Depending on the model, Tasers cost about $400 or $800 apiece, Minor said.
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