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By Lindsay Whitehurst
The Salt Lake Tribune

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah - Dan Clinch, 19, shook his head.
"I don't know . . . I don't know." Another, longer pause. He shook his head again. "I don't know. I expect to go numb and shake a little bit."
Clinch was the first person at a recent Citizens Police Academy class to volunteer to be shot with a TASER gun. The college student has adopted the wide stance of the police officer he'd like to be someday, but bit his lip as he watched videos of people being shocked and heard that he could have strong muscle contractions, possibly resulting in stress fractures.
People ranging from teens to grandparents are taking the 12-week program to learn about the Police Department. Half of the 18 volunteered to be pumped full of 50,000 volts for a full five seconds, the same length of time required for each police recruit.
Since Salt Lake City Police began arming officers with TASERs in 2003, their usage has dramatically increased. Last year, officers deployed the weapon once every eight days. Despite ongoing concern about the guns' safety and some controversial TASER deployments, many in the class said they have come to view the electric guns as a commonplace tool for law enforcement.
Melissa Davis, a 31-year-old Sugar House financial analyst and Citizen's Police Academy volunteer, said she can see how having the power to immobilize a criminal can be useful for officers. Even so, "it's also a little disconcerting . . .There are always people who misuse and abuse."
In a recent controversial deployment, a Utah Highway Patrol trooper shocked a motorist when the man reached to his pocket after refusing to sign a speeding ticket. Nearly 200,000 people watched video of the incident online, joining in a national debate on the deployment of TASER. The TASER use was ruled justified by the Highway Patrol.
The weapons are considered "less than lethal" by law enforcement. Salt Lake City first introduced the guns to about 20 of its 400 officers in 2003. They were used three times that year.
By the end of 2005, all of the department's officers were equipped with TASERs, said Salt Lake City Police spokesman Jeff Bedard. TASERs were used eight times that year, but in 2006, TASER use skyrocketed to 51 deployments, followed in 2007 by 43.
The guns use an electrical current to disrupt the brain's signals to the body, causing the person to immediately lock up and lose control of his or her muscles, according to TASER International. For police officers, it's the ability to immobilize a person that makes TASERs useful.
TASERs, though, are not foolproof. To work, both probes have to hit their target and attach to transfer an electrical current. Thick clothes can block the probes, determined people can snap the thin coated-steel wires attached to the gun, and since the effect stops when the cycle is over, a suspect can immediately start fighting.
The guns were classified as having no effect on subjects in 11 out of the 50 uses in 2006, and in many more cases the airborne prongs went awry. Most of the time, the subject was still caught, but officers also had to use more traditional force.
"For something that's pretty simple, it can fail quite a bit," Officer Aron Landry said. "It's not a magical tool by any means."
When Davis' turn came, the officers placed both probes on her leg to show how the guns can cause only localized immobilization. Though she had control over her other muscles, Davis still cried out: "OK, you can stop now!"
She and the other volunteers took their shocks on padded mats. A nitrogen cartridge propelled the metal probes of the TASER and they hooked into the victim's back, trailing thin, curling wires.
Each victim stiffened. Two spotters caught their flattened bodies, then lowered them gently to the floor. Some yelled in pain. Faces reddened.
They reported being totally unable to move. After the gun was turned off, the immobilization ended but a residual feeling remained. One young man stretched out as if finished with a long workout.
"It's like on a hot day," said Alison Wright, a 53-year-old emergency room nurse and TASER volunteer. "It's what you imagine electrocution would feel like."
The sensation gradually faded.
When Clinch's turn came, he took the shock in the back, gritting his teeth until it was over.
"It's hard to have no control over your body," he said. He still wants to be a police officer, but as for being shocked, "I wouldn't want to do it again."

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