Central Valley

Highway Patrol to begin carrying stun guns soon

SACRAMENTO -- The state's 6,500 California Highway Patrol officers will begin patrolling the roads with stun guns in tow in the coming weeks.

CHP commanders approved the purchase of 1,659 stun guns after a field study of the guns showed they are a valuable tool for officers.

Now, training officers are holding classes in CHP field offices on the gun's use, even as some in the medical and human rights communities continue to question its safety.

CHP spokeswoman Fran Clader said she hopes the very display of the guns will defuse tense situations, as it did in 33 of 73 instances when the gun was drawn during a six-month field study. The 40 times the weapon was actually used, six suspects were injured, mostly from falling after being stunned.

At least one supporter of the addition to the CHP arsenal believes the stun guns will reduce injuries to officers and suspects.

Jon Hamm, chief executive officer of the California Association of Highway Patrolmen, said he's heard anecdotal accounts of officers gaining the edge over suspects just by claiming to have a Taser.

"People know -- you don't want to mess with a Taser," he said.

The stun guns grabbed headlines this year when a University of Florida student who was detained by police while fervently questioning John Kerry during a lecture hollered, "Don't tase me, bro." The video was widely viewed on the Internet and raised debate over police use of force.

The CHP report has no analysis of civilian safety, but says the Tasers should save the agency money if all officer injuries are eliminated. Clader said the CHP bought the X-26 stun guns for $788.85 each. Officers will check out the stun guns at the start of each shift and return them at the end.

After an officer stuns a suspect, the person will be taken to a hospital for evaluation, Clader said.

An Amnesty International director applauds that policy but still urges all law enforcement to hold off on using the stun gun unless deadly force is the only other option.

Officials from Taser International, the company from which the CHP bought the guns, say the device is safe.

Clader said department policy directs officers to use the stun gun when faced with "an overt act or aggressive action where the subject is presenting a potential risk to an officer or public safety."

Even as the CHP's stun guns are spreading throughout the state, a University of California at San Francisco researcher is analyzing findings of a study that examines the stun gun's effects on officer safety and civilian sudden deaths.

Dr. Zian Tseng said officers using Tasers should avoid hitting people in the chest and that it would be wise to carry defibrillators in their car trunks.

More research needs to be done, he said, to determine how strongly the Taser affects the rhythm of the heart and whether the intense pain can trigger heart attacks and death.

"Certainly we should not be thinking of Tasers as nonlethal," he said.