COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Funds from a federal grant will allow the Columbia Police Department to almost double the number of Tasers available to police and move closer to the goal of putting one of the devices into the hands of every patrol officer.
The nearly $33,000 grant is from the U.S. Department of Justice 2007 Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant, which police and the Boone County Sheriff's Department jointly sought, Columbia police Capt. Mike Martin said. The purchase was approved Monday by the Columbia City Council.
Capt. Stephen Monticelli said the money would buy 35 or 36 Tasers, depending on the cost of holsters for the equipment. The devices cost about $810 each. The department already has 38 Tasers, he said.
The police department bought its first two Tasers in 2005, Monticelli said. It added 22 the next year and has bought 16 more devices since then. The new Tasers should be available to patrol officers in July after officers complete a two-day training course. Of the patrol division's 85 officers and 13 sergeants, only about 25 will lack Tasers after the purchase.
The devices decrease the likelihood of injuries to police and suspects during struggles, Monticelli said. They also are helpful when dealing with suicidal people. "It provides us the ability to use something besides deadly force," Monticelli said.
The devices contain a cartridge that shoots two probes into the skin. The probes emit a five-second burst of 50,000 volts that cause involuntary muscle contractions. The weapon can also be used as a warning with a laser sight or "spark display." A "drive-stun" feature allows a Taser to stun through direct contact, although probes are not embedded in the skin.
Since 2006, Columbia police have used Tasers 163 times, including 69 instances of full probe deployment and 13 "drive-stuns," Monticelli said. None of the uses have led to injuries, he said. Monticelli credits Tasers with helping decrease injuries to officers from people who resist arrest to five last year, compared to 22 in 2005.
Every patrol deputy with the Boone County Sheriff's Department and some officers at the Boone County Jail carry Tasers, sheriff's Maj. Tom Reddin said.
Tasers have been controversial. Former Hallsville Police Chief Pete Herring contends in a lawsuit against Arizona-based Taser International that he suffered heart damage and two strokes after he volunteered to be shocked in a demonstration about Taser safety for his officers in April 2004.
In July, a man from Mexico, Mo., died about 40 minutes after Kansas City police used Tasers to subdue him while investigating a complaint that someone was selling drugs at a hotel. A preliminary toxicology report of Jermaine Thompson, 36, indicated cocaine was in his system.
Monticelli said he does not know of any death that has been attributed only to Taser use, adding that 392 law enforcement agencies in Missouri use the devices.
Martin said every instance of Taser use by a Columbia officer is reviewed by a supervisor and that safeguards are in place to prevent abuse. "Tasers are now becoming standard issue within law enforcement more and more every day," he said.
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