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DURHAM, N.C. -- Durham police have used their Tasers 13 times since some officers were issued the weapon in mid-May. The device was fired at eight suspects and was pointed at five others, according to police officials.
In each case in which the weapon was fired, the suspect was either fleeing, not following voice commands or resisting arrest, said officer Aaron Ligo, one of the department's use-of-force instructors. None of the suspects required hospitalization, he said. The department ruled each incident to be a justified use of force.
"It's shown to be a valuable tool already," Ligo said.
Tasers, which resemble handguns, produce jolts of electricity using metal prongs that attach to a person's skin or clothing. The painful jolt is intended to immobilize suspects so officers can detain them without injury.
Durham police officials spent three years reviewing the weapon's safety and use before buying 100 Taser X26 models, using about $135,000 in drug-seizure and money-forfeiture funds. About 70 officers carry them; 30 more will begin training, which includes being shocked by the device, in July.
More than 12,500 U.S. law enforcement agencies use Tasers, including police in Raleigh and Charlotte and the state Highway Patrol.
Under Durham Police Department policy, Tasers are appropriate for use in the same situations in which pepper spray might be employed. That ranking within the "use-of-force continuum," which determines the amount of force an officer can use in a situation, means that Tasers are suitable for use before an officer would resort to physical force, impact weapons (such as a baton) and a handgun.
The policy stipulates that Tasers are not to be used on those thought to be 65 or older, pregnant women, "visibly frail" people, those operating a vehicle or those who can easily cause injury to others. Taser use is also disallowed on those who have been pepper-sprayed and those near combustible materials.
The policy does not detail situations involving children, the mentally ill or those known to be under the influence of drugs. In those instances, Taser use would "be gauged on what's reasonable, given the totality of the situation," Ligo said.
When a Durham officer fires a Taser, a supervisor must download the audio and video files from the device, which must accompany the incident and use-of-force reports submitted to internal investigators. All incidents involving police force are reviewed by the department.
The weapon's safety has been questioned every time someone dies after being hit by Taser prongs. Improper use has contributed to 11 North Carolina deaths in the past four years, but none was a direct result of the weapon, according to a recent report by the Taser Safety Project. A Wake Forest University School of Medicine study determined that Tasers are a generally safe alternative to a gun.
Durham police will gauge the success of their Taser use by the number of suspect and officer injuries, said Assistant Chief B.J. Council. She said the department, which will begin analyzing those numbers in six months, wants to eventually equip every officer with the weapon.