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A new tool for police

Farmington police have a new tool to help them maintain order in the city. Several police officers went through training Monday afternoon for the department's new Tasers, weapons that use 50,000 volts of electricity to incapacitate people who have gotten out of hand. Farmington police chief Dan Siebenaler has had his eyes on the Tasers for several years, but until now he had never been able to find room for them

in the department's budget. The department picked up its first four Tasers a few weeks ago and has four more in the budget for next year.

The clear plastic Tasers, which look more like futuristic ray guns than standard police weapons, work in one of two ways. Most commonly, officers use cartridges that fire 21- to 25-foot wires, tipped with barbed darts, at the target. The electrical charge locks up the individual's muscles and either causes enough pain that the individual chooses to do what police say or incapacitates him long enough for other officers to get the person under control. The Tasers also work with no cartridge and the tip of the barrel pressed directly to the suspect's body.

"The idea is that this is less lethal technology," Siebenaler said. "Rather than engage in a physical fight with somebody and risk injury to officers and subjects and bystanders, these Tasers can be used to bring a situation to an end quickly.

"We expect that it will prevent a lot of injuries to officers and suspects."

The shock from the Taser is painful, but its effects are temporary. Someone who has shocked might feel jumpy for a while - as if they have gone through strenuous exercise - but the can get up and move around almost as soon as the electrical charge stops. Siebenaler, who took a 10-second jolt from a Taser when he went through training, said he was able to get to his knees right away but was not able to stand for a few seconds. When he got up, he said, it felt like his leg had fallen asleep then stiffened up.

Several other officers were hit with the Taser on Monday. Siebenaler said it is important for officers to know what effects their weapons have.

"Short of lethal force, it's important for the officers to know exactly what they're doing to people that they're using this stuff on," Siebenaler said. "When we introduced mace, we took a hit with the mace to know what we're doing. To know how long the effect would be. When we introduced pepper, we took hits on that. It's important for the officer to understand, number one, because they need to empathize ... and they have to know how the subject will be disabled, what the effect will be and how long it will last." Siebenaler imagines the Tasers will be used most often in violent domestic situations, to break up bar fights or in situations where an individual is resisting arrest. Officers could have used the Tasers a few weeks ago, he said, when an officer was assaulted by a juvenile burglar, or a few months ago when a woman involved in a domestic dispute took a swing at an officer.

"Just based on our recent history with suspect altercations we see that there is a need for them, that they will be a very useful and helpful tool and, long-term, they're going to save a lot of lives," Siebenaler said.

The Tasers keep track of at least 1,500 discharges so police will know exactly when and how often each weapon is used. The department has had its Tasers for a few weeks but will not put them into service until it has a policy on when and how the weapons should be used. Siebenaler expects to have that policy finished before the end of the year.

So far, police officers appear happy to have another option when they are dealing with unruly individuals.

"It's just another tool in the tool box," said Sgt. Jim Murphy, one of the officers who took a five-second shot from a Taser Monday afternoon. "We've got beanbag rounds. We've got mace. It's just one more thing we have."

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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