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Published: Wednesday, 6/9/2010

Police Tasers have special features

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Eight months after Sylvania City Council authorized city police to use Tasers, the police department's $70,000 investment in the devices has hit the streets with a feature Police Chief William Rhodus said may be unique among area law enforcement.

The 40 Taser units that the department placed in service in late May are equipped with miniature cameras that record both video and sound to document the circumstances under which the devices are used.

As of Friday, Chief Rhodus said, Sylvania police had used a Taser just once, on a man who allegedly caused a public disturbance at the McDonald's restaurant on Alexis Road and then fled toward his home nearby, disregarding officers' orders to stop and surrender.

Because the home's contents were believed to have included a cache of firearms, officers who pursued the man used a Taser to subdue him before he got inside, the chief said.

Tasers deliver a brief burst of high-voltage, but low-amperage, electricity that disrupts the human body's neuromuscular system without, in nearly all cases, causing permanent injury. They give police an alternative to using physical force or use of firearms to subdue uncooperative subjects, Mayor Craig Stough noted in a "Mayor's Message" last week announcing the devices' deployment.

"Sometimes, just the threat of using a Taser will cause a suspect to surrender," the mayor wrote.

In the first Sylvania use, a Taser also may have prevented a protracted standoff between the unruly man and police, had the man entered his home and reached any weapons cached there.

"It's a great tool for the officers to have out there," Chief Rhodus said. The miniature cameras, he added, are "a great advantage to have" for reviewing incidents.

Taser devices shoot two metal barbs, attached to electrical wires, that lodge in a suspect's skin or clothing to deliver the shock. Chief Rhodus said the model obtained by Sylvania transmits the electricity at 1,200 volts but only 0.0021 amps - less than one-quarter percent the power needed to illuminate a typical Christmas-tree lamp.

City council approved the use of Tasers in Sylvania in September. The X-26 model that the department purchased cost $815 for the device, holster, and battery, plus $412 for the micro-camera, which stores up to 90 minutes of data. That plus a supply of replacement cartridges, at $21 each, brought the start-up cost to just under $70,000, Chief Rhodus said.

Everyone in the police department has been trained in the devices' use - "including the chief" - and all road-patrol officers carry them, Chief Rhodus said. The department's use-of-force policy specifying action "reasonable to control the situation" applies to Tasers as well as firearms, he said.

The cameras activate whenever the Taser is placed in the "armed" mode, Mayor Stough said. Anyone shocked by a Sylvania Taser will be taken to Flower Hospital to be checked for injury, he said.

Tasers have not been without controversies in other communities where they have been used. Some crime suspects shocked repeatedly with the devices, including one in Toledo five years ago who was shocked nine times by Toledo police and Lucas County sheriff's deputies, have died. Jeffrey Turner's death in 2005 is the subject of a pending civil lawsuit in county and federal court.



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