East Greenwich police have a new weapon in their arsenal – tasers. And they are hoping that information alone will keep them from having to actually use the weapon. Because it hurts.
Sergeant Steve Garrett knows.
“It was the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced,” he said. “And I only went for five seconds.”
Garrett and some of the other officers certified to carry tasers opted to be tased as part of the training. While that’s not required, for Garrett, it was very instructive.
“Going through the training gave me a new appreciation for using it. I’m not going to use this willy nilly. This is really going to hurt this person in a bad way,” he said. Now, said Garrett, when he talks to a suspect about using the taser, he can say, “You really don’t want to get hit with this. You really don’t want this.”
The EGPD started exploring tasers about 18 months ago, said Chief Steve Brown. “As departments around us started to get them, word started to trickle out that this was an effective tool.”
Once the decision was made to get tasers, Sergeant Jim Woodward attended a taser training course so he could to bring back the training to the department. Officers have been carrying tasers since February, Brown said.
It’s not mandatory.
“We just felt this was one of those tools where if somebody really wasn’t comfortable carrying it, we would prefer that they not. We don’t want it to be used against them,” Brown said, noting that officers already carry a gun, pepper spray and some even still carry a baton.
So why use tasers?
Because they are an effective deterrent, Brown and Garrett agree.
“The presentation has a big effect in getting compliance,” said Brown.
“Especially if they’ve been tased before,” said Garrett. “Typically, if the person’s experienced it, they comply immediately.”
So far, tasers have not been fired in the line of duty in East Greenwich, but they have been used as a deterrent five to six times, said Chief Brown. The department has seven tasers, which are signed out by certified officers at the beginning of their shift.
In some ways, Brown said, tasers are similar to pepper spray, but tasers have distinct advantages.
“Pepper spray is effective but it has a residual effect for the people around. If I spray you in this room, we all get affected to some degree,” he said. “You’re going to get the main effect, but we’ll get residual effect, which is bad because we’re not going to be as effective.”
Brown said the effects of pepper spray can last for hours. Not so with the taser.
“With the taser, as violent as it looks – and it’s a device that’s going to drop you where you stand – as soon as it’s shut off, it’s over,” said Brown. “You’re up and as able to function as well as you were 10 seconds before.”
The taser works by shooting out two small dart-like lasers that, when aimed correctly simultaneously lodge in parts of the body. The charge is typically three to five seconds long. That’s usually enough, but if it’s not and the hooks are still attached to the suspect, an officer can activate the charge again. An officer can put the taser on a suspect and activate it, something that could happen if a suspect is fighting restraint.
Brown said he’s well aware that many police departments have been sued over taser use. That’s why EGPD is in no hurry to tase anyone.
“It’s like anything else, you hope you never have to use it.”