Non-lethal weapons widespread among valley police
EAGLE COUNTY – Chris Peck knows Tasers work. The Avon officer got jolted by 50,000 volts while training with the stun gun.”I can’t say I’d ever do it again,” he said. “It knocked me down. It was the longest five seconds of my life.” Police departments in Vail, Avon and Eagle, along with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, use less-than-lethal or non-lethal weapons such as Tasers, pepper spray and collapsible batons, though Vail’s officers do not carry Tasers.Officers use the weapons to protect themselves or aid in the arrest of people fighting police. A policy called the “use of force continuum” guides officers in choosing which weapon to use at what time.If an officer is punched, the officer might squeeze a pressure point to foil a combative person, police said. The officer can move up to using a baton or pepper spray if he feels he is in danger.
“If I feel this person might hurt me, I can go to (pepper spray),” said Kim Andree, spokeswoman for Eagle County Sheriff’s Office. “I just want to disarm him, not hurt him.”Often, people obey officers’ orders, or the sheer presence of officers prevents physical confrontations, Andree said.”We use (Tasers) as another tool to be used in the event of a violent or resistant person – to take them into custody,” Peck added.Avon officers were outfitted with Tasers 20 months ago. Since then, officers have used the weapons twice.In one instance, Officer Steve Hodges broke up a domestic dispute involving a suicidal man who Hodges suspected had a gun in the house. The man was holding his wife in a painful grip and when he released her, Hodges drew his Taser. The man then grabbed one of his children to shield himself.Hodges said he holstered the Taser and the man fled toward a back bedroom. Hodges then fired the Taser at the man to prevent him from barricading himself in the room with a weapon.
“He went right down like he was supposed to,” Hodges said. “It’s better (than a fighting) because I don’t get hurt and they don’t get hurt.”The Tasers fire two air-propelled darts attached to 20-foot wires. The weapon delivers a 5-second burst of 50,000 volts contracting muscle and temporarily incapacitating a person. There are no lasting effects, compared to bruising batons or physical fights, officials say.”It does cut down on injuries to both the suspect and police,” Peck said. “As much as getting shot with it was terrible, I’d rather get hit with that than repeatedly with a baton. When those five seconds are up, most people comply.”Before integrating Tasers into Vail’s non-lethal arsenal, Cmdr. Steve Wright said the department is waiting to see more studies on how people are affected by Tasers.”We’ve been looking at the entire concept of Tasers,” he said. “Frankly there’s a lot of controversy that surrounds Tasers right now.”According to the American Civil Liberties Union, there have been more than 100 Taser-related deaths since 2001. The company that makes Tasers contends the deaths are caused by drug use.
“There’s a lot of people saying they cause deaths,” Peck said. “I don’t think anything conclusive has been done.”As for other less-than-lethal weapons, Wright estimates pepper spray is used two to three times per year in Vail while batons have been used once or twice in the past five years.Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14622, or email@example.com.Vail, Colorado