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Friday, October 23, 2009

Suspended use of tasers widens in Illinois

October 23, 2009
By Chris Green, RRSTAR.COM

ROCKFORD — Rockford police, the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department and Loves Park police each took away the use of Taser guns from their officers today until further notice.

The removal comes a day after the law-enforcement agencies received a shock themselves from TASER International’s nationwide warning bulletin advising against shooting their Taser gun’s 50,000 volts of electricity into someone’s chest. The bulletin said it opens the officer, the agency and TASER International to liability if heart damage, such as sudden cardiac arrest, or death occurs.

The warning bulletin is advising officers to change their focus point to lower-center mass and preferably the back instead of aiming for center mass.

The city of Rockford’s Legal Department issued a news release today that stated: “The modified warnings will require extensive review and potentially revision of policies and training if the device is to be redeployed.”

City Legal Director Patrick Hayes did not give a timetable for when or if the Police Department would put its roughly 50 Taser guns back into service.

“Given the analysis of the materials in the bulletin, the outcome of that analysis will determine if we will redeploy the use of the Tasers,” he said.

Sheriff Dick Meyers said his department also has suspended the use of Tasers after conferring with the state’s attorney’s office.

“Being that (TASER International) came out with new guidelines, it’s probably best to pull them until your training matches what’s in the guidelines,” he said.

Just how practical it is for an officer to avoid shooting an encroaching combatant in the chest has not been determined.

Meyers said: “We’ll see how (the new guidelines) will impact our use of force policies and our training. Is it a tool we continue to use? The answer might be no. ... Those are things you have to sit down and look at.”

Loves Park police Chief Jim Puckett called Tasers “one of the best tools the police have right now.” Today, he reluctantly took away the use of Tasers from his officers.

“Until we look into this to see what is going on, we had no choice,” Puckett said.

Puckett said injuries to his officers and to people fighting with or fleeing from police have been greatly reduced because of Tasers.

“People would rather give up than fight, or the Taser would take the fight out of them.”

Puckett also said he is not ready to make the suspension permanent.

“We may have to change our training around, but I’m going to work to get them back out there,” he said.

Belvidere police and the Boone County Sheriff’s Department do not have Tasers.

Speaking solely for his department, Belvidere police Chief Jan Noble said there is a reason.

“There have been a lot of lawsuits, and we were kind of taking a wait-and-see attitude,” he said.

“When we do make the jump to them, we will follow the new standards set by TASER International.”

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