Monday, October 15

UCPD: no plans to buy tasers


UCLA is often on the cutting edge, purchasing the newest and
most technologically advanced tools to achieve the highest levels
of success.

But unlike several universities and metropolitan police
departments in California, UCLA’s police department
isn’t buying taser guns, one of the most recent tools to hit
the market.

Taser guns slightly resemble regular guns but work only at a
close range, firing two electric probes that stick to a
person’s skin or clothing.

The probes replace bullets or other potentially deadly
projectiles, sending 50,000 volts of electricity through the
target’s body and disabling him or her from performing any
coordinated task for approximately five seconds.

“We’ve provided the missing tool for the tool box
for the police officer who wants to stop somebody safely (from a
distance of) 21 feet or less,” said Steve Tuttle,
spokesperson for TASER International, the company that makes the
guns.

Most confrontations involving police occur within a 10-foot
radius, Tuttle said. “We can reduce injuries to officers and
suspects dramatically,” he added.

Earlier this year, a university police officer was involved in
close-range combat that resulted in the shooting of a suspect in
Kerckhoff Hall.

Since then, allegations have surfaced regarding the
officer’s use of force during the incident.

This type of situation, which can lead to a lawsuit against an
officer for use of excessive force, is one that Tuttle said the
tasers aim to avoid.

Taser guns provide police with an alternative to pepper spray,
batons, hand-to-hand combat or firearms, which are all among the
weapons they might normally use at close range.

If someone is emotionally disturbed or influenced by alcohol or
drugs, they may be able to fight through weapons that rely solely
on a victim submitting to pain, Tuttle said.

Tasers don’t rely on inflicting pain as a means of
apprehending someone.

“Regardless if you want to fight through (the pain),
we’re going to take over your muscles,” Tuttle said.
“Now we’re finally able to stop the guy on
PCP.”

Police at UCLA say they like the tasers, but that the guns do
have problems and it doesn’t look as though a purchase is in
the university’s future.

One problem with the tasers arises if a suspect is wearing baggy
clothing, said UCPD’s Lieutenant John Adams, who has worked
at UCPD for 17 years and is a UCLA alumnus.

If the suspect is wearing baggy clothing and the probes strike
the clothing, the suspect may not be affected by their
electricity.

“That’s the limitation of the device,” Tuttle
said. “The probes have to be within two inches of the victim.
That’s the number one cause for a failure.”

Another problem is that an officer may mistake his or her
firearm for a taser, which could lead to a disaster, Adams
said.

An officer in Madera, CA mistakenly withdrew her firearm instead
of her taser, resulting in a shooting in 2002.

This is a concern that often arises in the heat of the moment,
Adams said. He added that it has been about a year since the
department last looked at using tasers, and that UCPD had thought
about putting them in sergeants’ cars.

Adams also said introducing tasers to the department would be
costly and would require additional training.

UCPD has other non-lethal weapons, including bean bag guns and
bullets, as well as handheld shock weapons that require an officer
to touch a suspect with the device, Adams said.

At least fifteen California college and university police
departments have bought tasers for their forces, including UC
Davis, UC Irvine, UCSD and UC Riverside.

“For the most part, (officers) are pleased with how
efficient and effective it is,” said Lieutenant Ben Hartnett
at UC Davis’s police department.

Tasers were introduced to Davis’s department about two
years ago, Hartnett said. He added that there is a taser issued to
each car and that officers have used the weapons.

Major metropolitan departments such as the Los Angeles Police
Department and agencies in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia have
also begun using the new weapons.

Tuttle said 180 law enforcement agencies are signing on to the
concept of tasers each month.

Last month, San Jose police ordered 629 tasers and accessories,
for a total cost of about $780,000. The tasers will be carried on
officers’ belts along with their firearms.

Almost a year prior to the purchase, San Jose’s Police
Department came under scrutiny when an officer shot Bich Cau Tran,
a 4-foot-9-inch woman who police say posed a threat with a
vegetable peeler.

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