Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Taser Use Policy Needs Clarification

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Taser Use Policy Needs Clarification

Article excerpt

Byline: Mark Woods, Times-Union columnist

Sheriff John Rutherford removed his blue uniform shirt and stood in the middle of the gym, wearing a white T-shirt with a gold chain and cross tucked underneath.

In front of him, four TV cameras and about a dozen journalists waited.

Behind him, Russ Stender raised the device that prompted Rutherford to call this news conference; the device that fires not single bullets but two fishhook-like barbs carrying wires and 50,000 volts; the device that within a year will be in the hands of every officer in the city.

The Taser X26.

"Ready?" Stender asked.

The gun-shaped device was pointed at the sheriff's back. And after a countdown, there was a loud pop.

The barbs flew through the air. Rutherford grimaced, closing his eyes and groaning as he fell forward onto a wrestling mat.

The surge stopped and Rutherford hopped to his feet, holding out his hands out like a gymnast celebrating a perfect dismount.

"Here's the amazing thing," he said. "During that five seconds, . . . I was completely disabled, but as soon as the charge was over, I'm fine."

The message was obvious.

"Tasers are safe," he said.

The Sheriff's Office then invited the media to be on the receiving end of a Taser. There were no takers. (I'll do some silly things in the name of journalism -- wear a mascot outfit, do a polar plunge, run 26.2 miles in the hills of Greece -- but I'll pass on this one.)

Rutherford's goal was to convince the media and the public that Tasers will be worth the $1.8 million expense, that they will defuse potential deadly situations and save lives of officers and suspects.

There is indeed reason to believe this. In cities around the country, the number of people being fatally shot by police has dropped after the introduction of Tasers. In 2003, for the first time in a decade, Miami didn't have any fatal shootings. …

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