Stanislaus County law enforcement officials opened up about how they use force Thursday night at an NAACP-sponsored forum on less-than-lethal police techniques.
The officials spent most of the discussion answering questions about Tasers, a device that temporarily incapacitates a subject with an electric charge. Three inmates died last year in the Stanislaus County Jail after incidents that involved Tasers.
John Mataka, a member of the NAACP, asked whether Tasers are used increasingly by law enforcement, noting that he no longer hears about incidents involving pepper spray, batons or bean-bag shotguns, the other less-than-lethal weapons officers and deputies can deploy.
"The batons, the pepper spray, the bean bags, we use them all the time," said Modesto police Sgt. Carlos Castro. "They're not going to get the media attention the Taser does."
The Taser has fallen under intense scrutiny by the courts and civil rights groups after some of those subdued with the device later died.
About 70 people attended the event organized by the Modesto/Stanislaus National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at the King-Kennedy Memorial Center. The organizers invited the public to learn why and how less-than-lethal devices, such as Tasers, are used by law enforcement.
Modesto, Turlock and Ceres police departments had representatives at the event, as did the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department.
Turlock police Sgt. Miguel Pacheco said batons are still commonly used, but they can result in blunt force injuries and sometimes be ineffective.
"Hitting someone over and over again and not getting the results we want is not what we want to do," Pacheco said.
The event featured Ceres police Sgt. Trent Johnson demonstrating how officers use a Taser. Johnson fired at a target to show the 5-second shock.
The discussion also dealt with the use of force and managing potentially violent situations.
Acting Modesto Police Chief Mike Harden told the audience the type of weapons a suspect has, the number of officers there and distance can factor into what weapon the officer will use.
"There's lots of variables that can change the outcome at a moment's notice," Harden said, adding officers are forced to make split-second decision while taking an uncooperative suspect into custody.
Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson told the audience a deputy would intervene to stop another deputy going too far when using force.
"If they cross the line, they'll be held accountable," Christianson said. "We expect our employees to step in and say 'that's wrong.' "
Modesto police Lt. Ron Cloward told the audience officers are trained to calm people and diffuse a situation before it becomes violent.
"Taking those extra few seconds can make such a difference," Cloward told the audience. "And we do it nightly."
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2394.