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Tasers work well here, say authorities

It's been about four years since tasers were implemented in both the Douglas County Sheriff's Office and the Alexandria Police Department.

And so far, they are most often used as a deterrent or tool to de-escalate a situation, not as a weapon.

"The presence of a taser is what gets compliance, not the deployment of a taser," said Douglas County Sheriff Troy Wolbersen.

Police Chief Rick Wyffels says the tasers are great tools and provides officers with a less hands-on approach to handling potentially dangerous situations.

With the recent taser-related death in the Twin Cities area, the newspaper wanted to find out what local law enforcement officers thought about the guns, which produce 50,000 volts of electricity at a low ampage.

Wolbersen said when a taser is used, the situation has to warrant it; like if there is an imminent threat to a deputy or the situation becomes confrontational.

For example, if a subject is not compliant with orders or verbal commands and acts belligerent toward the deputy, the taser may be taken out of its holster as a means of force. However, Wolbersen said it is not used as a means of punishment, but as a means of getting the subject to comply with the law enforcement officer.

Wolbersen noted that there is one thing to always keep in mind when talking about use of force - the majority of subjects who are being placed under arrest are compliant throughout the whole process, which means that deputies don't often have to use any type of force.

Wyffels said that on average, the taser gun is used once a month, but not necessarily deployed. Even if the gun is displayed, it is considered as a use of force situation.

"By simply displaying the taser, situations can be handled much faster and without incident," said Wyffels. "It truly is a great tool."

Tasers operate by affecting the sensory and motor nervous system, causing muscles to seize and lock up. Two probes connected to the gun are shot into the body, which allows current to run from the gun to the person. A single trigger pull discharges current for a five-second cycle, although the trigger can be held continuously for a longer cycle.

Once discharged, the probes from the taser, which resemble fish hooks, may cause slight signature marks that look like surface burns and may appear red in color and blister.

Deputy Ken Anderson with the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, who is the use of force instructor, said that the taser gun itself has not been found to be the exact cause of death.

What people don't realize, Anderson said, is that a person who was tasered and died may have had a pre-existing condition or may have suffered from complications of illegal drug use.

Anderson provided statistics for how many times the taser has been used by Douglas County deputies since its inception in 2004. However, not all deputies were equipped with tasers the first year.

In 2004, the taser was drawn - taken out of its holster and pointed at a subject - 10 times. It was never fired.

For 2005, once all deputies were equipped with tasers, the number of times it was drawn jumped to 25. However, it was only used or deployed twice.

In 2006, the taser was drawn and pointed at a subject 34 times. Out of those times, it was deployed nine.

Anderson didn't have all the numbers in for 2007 as to how many times it was taken out and pointed at a subject, but he did note that it was deployed three times - twice by deputies and once by a jailer.

Subjects who have been hit by a taser gun may experience a variety of effects, which include the following:

• Falling immediately to the ground.

• Yelling or screaming.

• Involuntary muscle contractions.

• Freezing in place with legs locked.

• Potential vertigo.

• Temporary tingling sensation.

• Critical stress amnesia.

• Not remembering pain.

There are some things a taser does not cause, including:

• Damage to the nervous tissue.

• Serious burns.

• Electrocution in a wet environment.

• Harmful effects to a fetus.

• Urination or defecation (generally).

According to Amnesty International, more than 290 people have died after being tased. More than 12,000 law enforcement agencies use tasers.

The National Institute of Justice is conducting a two-year study to look at 150 deaths that have occurred after tasers were deployed. Findings are expected to be released later this year.