Tuesday, December 9, 2003

Tasers could arrive next week


200 will be ordered soon; training will start Friday

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Cincinnati Police Department could have new Tasers as soon as next week.

The first 200 Taser X26s, at $799 each, will be ordered as soon as Friday, Mayor Charlie Luken said. Taser International stands ready to ship that many immediately, its spokesman said Monday.

For now, the funds - about $1 million total - will come from money forfeited by convicted drug offenders.

The manufacturer's chief instructor will be here Friday to train some officers.

City Council's Health Committee will hold a hearing today on the possible medical effects of being hit with a Taser charge, though the company says there are none. And the full council might get a demonstration at its meeting Wednesday.

"We want to make sure everyone's comfortable with the technology," the mayor said.

Luken announced his plan to buy the Tasers on Sunday, a week after the death in police custody of Nathaniel Jones, a 41-year-old Northside man involved in a violent struggle with six officers. Hamilton County's coroner ruled the death a homicide, saying Jones' heart stopped as a result of the struggle and that the cocaine, PCP and methanol in the man's system were contributing factors.

The six officers have been off duty since the incident, but were scheduled to return Monday at 11 p.m.

No one involved in the Jones incident in the parking lot of the White Castle restaurant on West Mitchell Avenue had a Taser. The department took them off the streets recently because they were old - they'd been around since about 1980, officers said Monday - and ineffective. Only supervisors had them, and kept them in their trunks.

In 2000, a City Council effort to buy new ones was shelved after then-Safety Director Kent Ryan said that officers didn't need any new less-than-lethal force tools. And officers, he said, hardly used the Tasers anyway - only six times in 1997, and three times each in 1998 and 1999. That would be different, officers say now, if those old Tasers worked and had been more accessible. The cost estimate then was $238,000.

Police applied for a federal grant several months ago to buy the new ones, but Luken said the city shouldn't wait. Worn in a holster on the officer's gun belt, the new ones will go first to officers on patrol.

Several area departments have similar ones, including the Ohio State Highway Patrol, which got theirs a year ago. Phoenix bought 1,348 of the X26s in October, and the company's biggest client so far is the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The X26s have been on the market since September.

In Cincinnati, "they want to give it as standard equipment to all officers, on the theory that any one of them could be involved in a confrontation," the mayor said.

When officials at Taser International in Scottsdale, Ariz., saw the video of the struggle, shown over and over on national television, they thought they might hear again from Cincinnati, said Steve Tuttle, director of government and law enforcement affairs. The company demonstrated the Tasers several months ago here, but knew the city was looking for the money.

No one can say whether use of a Taser would have helped in the Jones case. In fact, Hamilton County's deputy coroner, Robert Pfalzgraf, said a Taser might have touched off a heart problem for Jones, too, because his heart already was enlarged and he suffered from high blood pressure.

But Tuttle said Jones is "absolutely" the type of "target" the X26 could be used on because the Taser does not rely on pain for compliance, as do the batons with which the officers repeatedly hit Jones.

He said the Taser, their top-of-the-line model, has a success rate of 94 percent. The company considers a use a success if the suspect falls to the ground and no higher level of force is needed.

A suspect's clothing can affect the success rate. Officers are trained to aim at a person's legs, rather than at the torso, to avoid coats and thicker clothing.

The Tasers fire 50,000 volts - which sounds like a lot, Tuttle said, but isn't. They immobilize the person by interrupting his or her nerve paths by cutting off communication between the brain and muscles.

Tuttle said the rest of the Tasers could be here in 12 to 14 weeks.

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Reporter Gregory Korte contributed to this story. E-mail jprendergast@enquirer.com

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