Officers tase, get tased in annual training
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• 5.4 percent of Taser deployments prevented lethal force
• A Taser has about 1/10 of the peak current of a strong electric shock.
• Tasers have been used on humans more than 2 million times.
• Suspect injuries are reduced
The officers, new and seasoned, lined up, facing off with bright yellow Tasers carefully holstered and at the ready.
"Make sure they are empty," said Sgt. Erica Vaccaro with the Victoria Police Department, drawing laughter from the officers, who carefully checked their cartridges to make sure they weren't loaded - they don't want to go through that shock again.
A Taser is a stun gun used to subdue a violent or aggressive person.
"It hurt. I couldn't have stood at all, but they helped me down so I wouldn't fall on my face," said Aaron Johnson, an officer who was tased during Monday's training.
Johnson, who has been with the department about two weeks, is one of three officers who took the eight-hour Taser certification class for the first time.
He volunteered to be shot by the stun gun, he said, so he would have a better understanding of the weapon he carries.
"So when I go to court, I can say I've been tased before. I know what it feels like," Johnson said.
The seasoned officers also have to go through a re-certification class annually and practice drills as part of their training.
"Draw," Vaccaro commanded.
In unison, about 20 officers whipped out Tasers, aiming the red laser at their comrades' chests.
"Fire," Vaccaro ordered, and the static of Tasers echoed in the room.
"Holster," Vaccaro said, repeating and mixing up the string of commands multiple times.
"It's muscle memory," Johnson said. "So I don't mess up when I'm in the field."
Since carrying Tasers is voluntary, Johnson said he chose to go through the training and carry a Taser as another form of defense.
Police Chief J.J. Craig said the department is getting close to outfitting the entire department with Tasers after approval from City Council to spend $26,896.70 on new Tasers and training equipment in September.
The officers who want Tasers check them out at the beginning of their shift.
"I think they are extremely critical in the job that we do," Craig said. "We use them to subdue violent, dangerous or belligerent individuals. And what it gives us is an opportunity for space, meaning we don't have to engage that individual hands-on, which reduces the risk of injury to the offender and to the officer."
Craig said they also use Tasers in situations where the only other alternative would be lethal force.
"I firmly believe the use of Tasers has reduced the number of injuries to police officers and to suspects," Craig said.
Senior Patrol Officer Justin Garcia, who has been with the department for seven years, goes through the re-certification class each year.
He said even though he only uses his Taser a few times in a year, it is a valuable piece of equipment.
"It is a good tool to have to get compliance on the streets," Garcia said. "It prevents us from getting hurt, and it also prevents them from getting hurt."
The last time he used it, Garcia said, was during a vehicle pursuit. The man then bailed from his car, refusing to cooperate with officers.
Craig stressed that Tasers are safe for the offenders.
Johnson agreed, saying he couldn't even feel the sharp prongs as they went in or as they were pulled out, even though the actual shock was painful.
Craig said he does not require officers to be tased during training, but many choose to.
"I have had the distinct pleasure of being a recipient of a full charge, but you can't be in charge of something and expect not to go through it, too," Craig said. "It was not the greatest - it was a shock, literally a shock."