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Taser use is rare by deputies

March 30, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD

WASHINGTON COUNTY

Tasers are used by some trained Washington County Sheriff's Department deputies and some trained Hagerstown Police Department officers in rare instances where they see the need to use "less lethal" force, officials with those departments said Wednesday.

Last year, Sheriff's Department deputies used the pistol-shaped electrical weapons during seven of the 3,458 arrests they made, Col. Doug Mullendore said.

"We're no cowboys out there. We're doing what we're trained to do," Sheriff Charles Mades said.

Tasers are used to incapacitate a suspect by sending 50,000 volts of electricity through the weapon, either at close range for pain compliance, using a "drive-stun" method or, at a farther distance, using a probe contact, said Sheriff's Department Lt. Mark Knight, the department's lead Taser instructor.

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Only 10 deputies of about 80 have been trained to use Tasers since the department began using them more than a year ago, Knight said. Hagerstown Police Department Lt. Mike King, also a Taser instructor, said that only some officers carry Tasers, a weapon the department has had in its arsenal for about five years. Those deputies and officers who carry Tasers expressed interest in getting trained on the weapon and were 'tased' as part of their training, Knight and King said.

Maryland State Police do not carry them, said Sgt. Robert Reid. He said members of the state police Special Tactical Assault Team Element are the only troopers who use them.

Knight said the department cannot afford to arm all deputies with the $800 Tasers, which is why training is offered to those who express interest.

He said the department has guidelines for the ways in which deputies use force, but every scenario is different and doesn't always end with a suspect in handcuffs after a verbal command. If a verbal command does not work - and it doesn't always begin with a verbal command - deputies progress to physical force, pepper spray, Tasers, a collapsible asp baton and ultimately, if all else fails, their handgun.

According to the Web site for TASER International Inc., more than 8,600 U.S. and foreign police departments have purchased Tasers.

Human rights group Amnesty International, in a report issued Tuesday, said more than 150 people in the United States have died since 2001 after being struck with Tasers. In 2005, there were 61 deaths related to Tasers, the report states.

The group reported that while coroners "usually attributed the deaths to other factors, such as drug intoxication, there was an increasing concern as to whether the Taser could exacerbate a risk of heart failure or other adverse effects in such cases."

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