Thursday, November 13, 2008

Allegheny County Use of Force Working Group Reconvenes to Discuss Tasers

The Allegheny County Use of Force Working Group heard testimony today from two representatives from Taser International, a major marketer of the conducted energy devices. Peter Holran and Jay Kehoe told the panel how tasers work, what risks are involved in using them, and the success of properly implemented taser programs. Holran says tasers emit a high voltage electric current on the same wavelength as those produced by the brain to cause neuromuscular incapacitation. Kehoe, who has personally been tazed 28 times, compared the sensation to muscle cramps of the whole body. Both company representatives agreed that the purpose of the taser is not to inflict pain on an individual but to incapacitate them until an officer can subdue the suspect.

Kehoe says the tasers come equiped with a laser sight for aiming accuracy, a camera which records from the time the safety on the gun is disengaged until it is re-engaged, and an automatic five-second run time of the electric pulse. The tasers also keep a computerized record of the time, date, and outside temperature of the time they are fired and release a receipt that shows the serial number of the cartridge fired. Kehoe says these components are in place to protect against allegations of improper use.

Allegheny County Medical Examiner Dr. Karl Williams spoke about the medical effects of taser usage. He says that the concept of the taser seems harmless, but cautions about the unknown risks of taser effects on an intoxicated individual.

The Working Group will continue to meet over the next several months, until it comes up with a recommendation for Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala about the use of tasers in local police forces. Currently, about 46 police departments in Allegheny County use tasers as a means to restrain suspects.

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