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December 25, 2008

Delaware County deputies now allowed to carry, use Tasers

By Patricia Breakey

DELHI _ Deputies with the Delaware County Sheriff's Department are now armed with Tasers, Undersheriff Doug Vredenburgh said Tuesday.

Vredenburgh said the deputies underwent training conducted by the State University at Albany police.

"Each of the deputies was Tased during the training," Vredenburgh said. "It was quite impressive. They were all instantly neutralized."

A Taser fires a fine electrified wire, at the end of which are attached two probes that hit the target. When the probe makes contact with the body or clothing, it overrides the nervous system, and the person experiences an immediate loss of neuromuscular control. The electrification for the Taser is provided by two lithium camera batteries, which deliver 0.0021 amps of current. Recovery is "instantaneous," according to the manufacturer's website.

According to a sheriff's department media release, the technology is a safer use-of-force intervention method to incapacitate anyone who poses a threat to an officer, a victim or themselves.

Vredenburgh said an incident in Binghamton convinced him that Tasers would be a worthwhile investment for the department.

"There was a mentally disturbed person who was out in the street threatening officers and other people with a weapon," Vredenburgh said. "The officers tried numerous means of disarming him, but none of them were successful.

"When the man went after an officer, they finally had no choice but to shoot him and he died," Vredenburgh continued. "I would much rather use a Taser than have to use deadly force."

The county is one of 13,400 law enforcement/correctional and military agencies in 44 countries using the device, the release said.

Vredenburgh said Taser technology and the way they are used by other departments was carefully scrutinized.

He said a jolt from a Taser can last from one to five seconds. He said that during the training, the deputies opted for the five-second jolt so they would know what the devices can do.

"We have strict policies about the various levels of force that can be used," Vredenburgh said. "Tasers are the last resort before deadly physical force."

He said that 98.5 percent of all arrests are accomplished without using force. When force is required, it is estimated that 88 percent of the subjects are under the influence of drugs, alcohol or suffering from some degree of emotional illness.

The Taser device has been used on more than 624,000 people, the release said, of which 94 percent were male and 99.7 percent received no injuries or only minor scrapes and bruises. Tasers have the highest degree of accountability of any weapon used by deputies, as they are equipped with a computer that records the date, time and duration of every trigger pull.

Vredenburgh said when law enforcement agencies use Tasers, there is a dramatic decrease in the number of injuries incurred by both officers and suspects.

However, there have been at least 380 U.S. deaths involving people shot by Tasers, including two people in California last week, according to The Associated Press. Medical examiners have ruled that a Taser was a cause, contributing factor or could not be ruled out in more than 30 of those deaths.

And also last week, the city of San Jose, Calif., settled a lawsuit in the 2005 heart attack death of a man. An autopsy concluded being Tasered was a contributing factor, along with cocaine and a violent struggle with police.