FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Two years after an officer shot a student, the Florida Atlantic University Police Department hasn't begun using Tasers purchased for officers as a non-lethal alternative to subdue suspects.
Police officials are still pondering whether to distribute the 12 stun guns, which were bought at a cost of nearly $10,000.
"Is this the best tool for us? Is it applicable for our campuses and environment?" Police Chief Charles Lowe asked. "There's some discussions I would still like to have on this issue."
Many of the nation's more than 12,000 law enforcement and military agencies that use Tasers are evaluating their policies, said Lori Fridell, a professor of criminology at the University of South Florida who has studied policies on the weapon. State and local officials are seeking safeguards often in the face of public criticism over the usage of the stun gun, she said.
At FAU, the police bought Tasers and started training officers weeks after probationary officer Mary Ann Douglas fired her 9mm handgun at a rowdy 21-year-old student and shot off two of his fingers on Feb. 8, 2006.
Then-Police Chief Bill Ferrell said at the time that he wanted the stun guns added as "another choice of weapon" for 37 officers who already carried batons, pepper spray and semiautomatic handguns. He resigned about eight months after the shooting and didn't get the university to approve a policy for Taser usage.
FAU officials decided to hold off on distributing the weapons until the current chief, Lowe, did his own analysis. Lowe, who took the post in September, said he is still studying Taser policies at other police departments, reading articles and research on the weapon, and assessing his own staff and campuses.
Across the nation, some departments are requiring officers not to fire the weapons at pregnant women, the elderly, children and frail people unless they fight back violently, Fridell said.
Others are putting restrictions on the number of times officers may fire the guns at a suspects.
The University of Florida Police Department made its policy more restrictive after police stunned student Andrew Meyer when he refused to leave and stop asking questions during a forum with U.S. Sen. John Kerry in September. A video of Meyer screaming "Don't tase me, bro!" made national headlines and became a hit on YouTube.
"Law enforcement must weigh the policy benefits against the costs and harm to the subjects," Fridell said. "That's what departments are grappling with."
Tasers work by firing twin barbs that emit a 50,000-volt charge into an individual, causing the person to collapse. The stun gun originated in the 1970s and became widely used by most major law enforcement agencies by the late 1990s.
Advocates say the Tasers' ability to temporarily incapacitate an aggressor without causing long-term physical damage makes the weapon a safer police control tactic than wielding a nightstick, releasing a dog or wrestling a suspect to the ground.
The American Civil Liberties Union and civil rights groups contend law enforcement uses the weapons too frequently and downplays safety concerns. According to the ACLU, at least 148 people in the United States and Canada have died between 1999 and 2005 after encounters with police who shocked them with Tasers.
At least four major Florida university police departments have officers carrying Tasers.
The University of Florida, Florida State University, University of Central Florida and University of Miami are among the schools that have added Tasers as a weapon for officers within the past 10 years.
UCF studied Taser usage for several months before issuing them to officers in 2003 while FSU took a year to review it before distributing them out in 2004, officials at both schools said.
Lowe said he has no time frame to decide on issuing the weapon to his officers. Until a determination is made, Lowe said, the weapons will remain in the safe.