Avon Police to start carrying Taser guns
Fight with an Avon police officer these days, and you are liable to get zapped.
As soon as this weekend, Avon patrol officers will start carrying Taser guns – a non-lethal weapon that acts like a stun gun by taking down combative suspects with 26 watts of conducted energy.
Police Chief Jeff Layman said the department has already purchased two Taser guns at $800 a piece. He hopes that every on-duty police officer will soon be carrying one.
“Anything you can give an officer that lets him do his job without having to take a suspect to the ground or use lethal force,” he said.
Eagle County Sheriff’s deputies have been using Taser guns for about a year now, said Tom Brandell, a deputy assigned to train the Avon Police Department to use the weapon. Avon and the sheriff’s office are among several law enforcement agencies – including the Denver Police Department – that are using Tasers as a safer alternative to other weapons when apprehending an uncooperative suspect.
Layman said a Taser gun could have prevented the injury of an Avon police officer last year. That officer had responded to a domestic violence call and was knocked down by the suspect, causing the officer’s head to hit the floor. The officer is still recovering from the injury.
The yellow-and-black gun is loaded with wires with a small barb – essentially a No. 8 fish hook – attached at the end. The officer punches the trigger, shooting the barbs toward the suspect. The wires send 26 watts of current for five seconds into the suspect – enough to paralyze temporarily but not enough to harm permanently.
Matt Westenfelder, an Avon police officer, volunteered to be a guinea pig during Tuesday’s training session. With two officer beside to catch him and the barbs taped onto his back, Westenfelder received a one-second dose of the Taser gun.
As soon as Brandell punched the trigger, Westenfelder let out a yelp, his muscles tensed and his face cringed. His knees went out beneath him and his fellow officers steadied him back onto his feet.
Afterward, Westenfelder said the device definitely works.
“My mind just went blank and I couldn’t do anything,” he said.
That’s because the voltage essentially overrides the central nervous system, Brandell said.
Eagle County Sheriff’s deputies have used the device only once in the past year. Brandell said a deputy used the weapon to take control of a suicidal man armed with a knife.
While the weapon is supposed to be a safer alternative for officers and suspects, some organizations, including the Colorado office of the American Civil Liberties Union, have concerns. In a press release from that office, the ACLU cited 33 deaths in four years associated with the use of Taser guns, two of which were in Colorado.
The organization called for a policy change that would limit the use of Tasers by Denver police.
“The proponents of Tasers have repeatedly said that Tasers have never caused a death,” said ACLU legal director Mark Silverstein, in a letter to Denver police. “What they mean, apparently, is that so far no medical examiner has listed the Taser as the sole cause of death. But several medical examiners have said that an electroshock weapon contributed to a fatality.”
Brandell said Tasers send out such a small amount of energy – 100 times less than a heart defibrillator – that suspects aren’t permanently hurt.
Westenfelder said he can attest to that.
“I’m fine now,” he said.
Staff writer Tamara Miller can be reached via e-mail at: email@example.com or by calling 949-0555 ext. 450.