Police turn to Tasers Local departments find benefit in less-than-lethal weapon

| 05 Sep 2012 | 11:53

    It was Thanksgiving eve 2005 when the Monroe Police heard of a fight at J B McMinnion’s bar on Route 17M. In a room crowded with partiers, Corey Valle, 30, of Middletown squared off to fight another patron, according to police.
    “As I turned around, one subject I separated pulled out a knife and place(d) it to the neck of the victim, Brendan Gaffney, and appeared that he was going to stab Gaffney,” according to an account by Officer Doug Krauss.
    “There were people everywhere,” said Det. James Frankild of the Monroe Police Department. “It was actually a very clear shoot situation for a handgun, but obviously it was way too dangerous.”
    Instead of pulling a gun, the responding officer drew his Taser, an electric stun gun that only police are allowed to carry in New York State. The officer struck his target and neutralized a threat to others. He also triggered a number of the Taser’s tracking features designed to reduce theft, prevent police abuse, and counter claims of excessive force.

    Tasers leave traces

    The shot from the Taser sent dozens of tiny plastic ID tags called AFIDs (Anti-Felon Identification) flying over the immediate area.
    “Each one of those AFIDs has a unique serial number like the vehicle identification number of a car,” Frankild said. “So when you shoot one of these things, a bunch of those AFIDs go all over the place. If somebody ended up getting these cartridges and was doing robberies by Tasering people, Taser knows exactly who these went to, and it would be the same thing to prevent unlawfulness by the cop.”
    The AFIDs perform a function similar to a microstamped casing from semi-automatic pistols, which some say will help in police investigations.
    But in addition to AFIDs, the X26 Taser — the model widely used by local police departments — also contains a chip that records each use.
    “Inside every one of these Tasers, there is a memory, and there is no way to alter that memory at all,” Frankild said. “The good thing about that is that it protects any claims of excessive force. If you were hit by a Taser and arrested, the memory tells the exact date, time, and duration.”
    Goshen-based civil rights attorney Michael Sussman said the Tasers’ data cache is valuable source of information for clients who claim they have been abused by police.
    “That is something we always look for,” Sussman said. “Many cases of excessive force settle, so if you count settling out of court and getting money for our clients, then yes, many of our cases are successful.”

    What Tasers do to the body

    When a Taser is discharged, two small probes attached to insulated conductive wires shoot toward the suspect. Once embeded into clothing or skin, the probes transmit electrical pulses for five seconds, immobilizing the suspect.
    A medical technician is needed to pull the dart out. In some cases, surgery is needed to remove the dart.
    In a small percentage of cases, a Taser can cause lasting injury or death.
    A hit from a Taser delivers a shock at high voltage and low amperage. According to the Journal of Emergency Medicine, the weapon delivers an average of 2.1 milliamperes, or amps. It takes upwards of 60 amps to stop the human heart.
    Frankild said he and his fellow officers understand the risks. In training, officers learn to identify when a target is inappropriate, like Tasering a person who could be injured in a fall, a person with a pacemaker, or a pregnant woman.
    In one case, officers in his department waited until a suspect they were chasing reached a soft, grassy area before disabling the runner with a Taser, he said.
    Police departments in Chester, Greenwood Lake, Harriman, Monroe, Tuxedo, and Warwick have trained their officers in the use of Tasers. In New Jersey, Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa has allowed departments to purchase the sidearms only since October 2011, and local departments have not yet adopted them. The Sussex County Sheriff’s Office, and police departments in Newton, Milford, Franklin, Hamburg, Ogdensburg and West Milford, are considering buying Tasers.
    People over 18 may carry a stun gun anywhere in Pennsylvania except Philadelphia. Milford Borough does not have Tasers but may get them in the future, the Milford police said.
    Do you know someone who has been Tasered by the police? We want to hear from you. Contact Joshua Rosenau at 845-469-9000.