by J. Brooks Terry
Tasers will likely resurface in the Jacksonville’s Sheriff’s Office though exactly when remains unknown.
Sheriff John Rutherford said that before the end of June his office would be one step closer to developing “the model policy for Taser deployment across the country.”
Tasers are gun-like devices which fire wires that penetrate a person and temporarily immobilize them with a 50,000-volt punch — in effect, the officer hooks the suspect up to a battery.
JSO officers have been without Tasers since late February when, amid concerns from community activists about the weapon’s power, Rutherford suspended their use. He said his office would take some time to study Tasers to better understand any possible medical emergencies that may arise as a result of making them part of the JSO arsenal.
JSO personnel director Rick Lewis and medical advisor Barry Steinberg are leading those efforts. Rutherford said a Shands medical team has also provided useful information.
Of the reported approximately 100 Taser-related casualties since 1999, Rutherford said other medical conditions were likely the primary cause of death.
“Amnesty International has said that 90-100 people have died, but that is false information,” he said, speaking at a meeting of the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs Committee Tuesday. “Our research proves that’s not happening.”
Rather, he said, those fatalities could be attributed to a disorder known as Excited Delirium.
Rutherford said a person with ED suffers from a chemical imbalance, whether naturally or through drug use, and typically exhibits elevated body temperature and a high level of carbon dioxide in his system. A low blood PH level has also been noted, which indicates blood with a high level of acidity.
By better understanding that disorder, when a person with ED is taken into police custody, the chance of death can be greatly reduced.
“Proper protocol can be put in place that will insure that Tasers are the safest option out there and that we can minimize the chance of anyone dying in our custody,” he said. “We can save lives with them and there have already been situations in the past where we have been able to do that.”
Rutherford said that if Tasers, which cost the JSO nearly $2 million, were to return, they would primarily be used on adults. As a last resort, and only in lieu of “lethal force,” would a student have to be subdued with the weapon.
However, a time table to “get them off the shelves” has not been identified. Ongoing town hall meetings will aide in making that decision, he said.
“We’ve reversed our stance on Tasers for now,” Rutherford said. “But when I was elected I made the promise that I would make sure our officers are well equipped. Tasers are a part of that promise and I can assure you they are safe.”