News; More police have tasers as options...

Published: Tuesday 12 April, 2011

Stoughton would become the 10th community south of Boston to equip its police with electroshock weapons, if it approves a Town Meeting warrant to spend $67,000 on 45 Taser guns.

At the request of Police Chief Paul Shastany, selectmen recently voted to add the warrant article to purchase the weapons, which were legalized in Massachusetts in 2004.

Police chiefs in the region say that Tasers have proven to be an effective weapon, and Cynthia Walsh, vice chairwoman of the Stoughton selectmen, strongly supported the idea.

“When police pull their guns, it’s to kill an individual, not to shoot the weapon out of the other person’s hand or wound them in the knee. They do it because they believe the situation is very dangerous,’’ said Walsh, whose brother and sister are former police officers. “Tasers are less lethal.’’

The devices, which look similar to police handguns, shoot out two dart-like probes that can hit a target from 35 feet away. Via the wires attached to the probes, the guns deliver 50,000 volts of electricity to the neuromuscular system, causing loss of voluntary muscle control and incapacitating targets for about five seconds — enough time to restrain the subject.

The American Civil Liberties Union has expressed its opposition to Taser use. Christopher Ott, communications director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said his organization argues the characterization of Tasers as nonlethal weapons is misleading. “They can in fact kill,’’ Ott said. “Since 2001, 300 people [nationwide] who were Tased died.’’

Ott added: “Our position is they shouldn’t be used except in cases where you’d use lethal force.’’

Local police chiefs whose departments use Tasers very effective.

“One time, a 300-pound man with a knife in each hand was intent on cutting himself and one of our officers,’’ Shastany recalled. “Using a billy club would not have been appropriate and pepper spray could have hit the officer, too. They used a Taser. The man dropped the knives and fell back onto a bed, and the officers rushed in and arrested him. . . . In my opinion, this will be a very smart move for Stoughton.’’

South of Boston, police officers in Foxborough, Hingham, Mansfield, Norton, Pembroke, Raynham, Rockland, and Wareham are allowed to carry Tasers. Some police departments issue a Taser gun to every officer, while others purchase fewer and share the weapons.

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