Archive for Wednesday, February 2, 2005

An electrifying experience

In training with Tasers, Tonganoxie police discover the weapons pack a punch

February 2, 2005

Dustin Holladay's had a thorough introduction into the Tonganoxie Police Department.

Saturday morning Holladay, Tonganoxie's newest police officer, got zapped.

At a Taser certification class held in Tonganoxie, Holladay, other Tonganoxie police officers including the department's secretary, Sandy Koontz, and one firefighter, learned first-hand what it's like to be "Tasered."

A Taser is an electronic gun that shoots two barbs attached by 15-foot-long thin wires. When a Taser is shot and the barbs ejected, for five seconds they deliver 50,000 volts of electricity at whatever -- or whoever -- is hit.

Lt. John Putthoff, Tonganoxie's acting chief of police, said the department has owned two Taser guns for several months, but that they had not been used. However, since Saturday's successful completion of the Taser course, which included a written test, all police officers are now qualified to use them.

Putthoff said the department is nearly finished with writing a policy manual regarding use of Tasers. And, Putthoff said, officers will begin deploying Tasers when it is necessary.

While the department currently only has two Tasers, Putthoff said he plans to purchase more soon.

In training, officers could choose to go for the full 5-second Taser, or for a 2-second or 5-second Taser delivered by metal clips attached to clothing.

Holladay, and four other police officers -- Bob Koontz, Russ Moore, Lt. Johnny Putthoff and Steve Hawkins went for the real thing -- a 5-second actual blast from a Taser gun. From later watching a videotape of the session, officers determined that one policeman, Bob Koontz, received a double dose. His Tasering lasted nearly 10 seconds.

"It felt like being struck by lighting," Holladay said, adding that he'd never been struck by lightning, but thought that's what it must feel like.

Holladay said the main danger from Tasers isn't the shot itself -- it's the fall.

That's why the officers met at the school's multi-purpose building, which has mats on the floor. And, that's why two officers held each person as they were Tasered.

"When you're shocked, every muscle in your body tenses up," Holladay said. "If Bob and Russ weren't holding me up I would have just tipped over backwards. And I would have basically fallen like a tree."

Within seconds after the Taser stopped, the officers began to recover.

What makes a Taser safe to use, Holladay said, is that they don't have much amperage.

"It's .004 amps," Holladay said, "It's real low, that's why they're safe and they have no lasting side effects."

While Holladay and fellow police officer Steve Hawkins agreed to Taser each other, one candidate was hard put to find a shooter.

When Sandy Koontz stepped to the line, the men backed off, making comments such as, "I'm not going to Taser her," or "I don't want to hurt her."

But finally, someone stepped up to deliver a 2-second burst to Koontz, who took the Tasering well, showing only a grimace, and soon flashing her bright smile again.

Before shooting a Taser, whether in practice or in the field, officers aim the gun and shout, "Taser, Taser."

This warns other officers nearby that the noise they're going to hear is a Taser, not a live fire round.

While Holladay didn't mind getting Tasered on Saturday, he doesn't plan to do it again.

"No way would I do that again, unless I had to do it in order to keep being able to use it," Holladay said.

After Saturday's class, all of Tonganoxie's police officers are certified to use Tasers.

"We all took the test and took the ride," Holladay said.

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