By: Hector Garcia
July 16, 2012
WILLIAMSON - “I’m very optimistic that being certified to use Tasers in situations when we are face to face with a defendant who is determined to man up and fight or attempt to use a weapon against us will do more than even the odds in our favor, it will greatly reduce the chances of an officer being harmed, which in turn, will save the city and the worker’s comp fund quite a bit of money,” remarked Williamson City Police Chief C.D. Rockel, while speaking to the Daily News about a training class he and his officers attended in Charleston on Saturday.
“Not to mention the reduction we will see in criminal and civil litigation cases involving complaints of abuse and brutality by an officer, since they come equipped with cameras.”
Chief Rockel and all 7 of his officers spent Saturday in an 8 hour class that included textbook, video and practical training to educate and familiarize them with the proper handling and usage of Taser guns. In order to be certified in this field, the chief explained that not only are the law enforcement officials tested on the information taught during the class, they have to agree to be tased during the last phase of the class with the same type of gun they could possibly find the need to use in the field.
“If anyone says it doesn’t hurt, they’re lying,” stated Rockel. “It hurts like heck.”
“It’s definitely not anything I would ever want to go through again. Thankfully, once you complete it the first time, you don’t have to do it again to be recertified.”
“If that was the case and you had to be tasered every year to recert, you wouldn’t have any officers left. They would all find a job elsewhere.”
The chief explained that the type of Taser his officers will carry cost $1,200 per unit, and is equipped with video cameras that are engaged as soon as the gun is taken out of the safety position.
“That’s the good thing about these weapons,” remarked Rockel. “With the video proof, it’s very hard for a defendant to make a claim of police brutality stick if you have evidence that proves they were belligerent and out of control, threatening to use physical force against an officer or worst case scenario, pulled a weapon.”
The chief shared a video that shows actual court hearings involving defendants who had filed a complaint against police departments for what they claimed were unjustified and unnecessary use of a taser.
The video began by stating that during court proceedings, a defendant will typically look and dress their best, hoping to make a good impression on the judge or jury. When this appearance is all the court sees, it would be easy to portray them as law-abiding citizens who were mistreated by police instead of the unruly, out of control individuals who were resisting arrest or fighting with an officer.
As each court case proceeded, you hear testimony under oath from the defendants as they relay to the judge that they did not act in a violent manner toward anyone, did not threaten bodily harm to the police or others present, was not in the commission of committing a crime and did not at any time, resist arrest. Following their statement, the prosecutor is then provided the opportunity to present their evidence which, in these particular cases, involved video recordings from the taser guns which clearly proved the officers were well within their rights to utilize the weapon.
The testimonies of the defendants are soon recanted and apologies are then extended, as they see with their own eyes their actions were recorded.
“Without the camera on the taser, there could possibly be a shadow of doubt in the judge or jury’s minds about whether or not the actions of the officer were necessary,” said Rockel. “According to national research on this matter, 96.2 percent of cases alleging police brutality involving a taser equipped with a camera ended in the officer being exonerated and cleared of all charges.”
“That’s why when I was checking the different types and styles of tasers on the market, we opted to purchase this specific model. The proof is in the pudding, so to speak. The camera recording will either incriminate or exonerate the officer. It doesn’t get any clearer than that.”
Rockel explained that when activated, the taser, which is worn on the opposite side of the firearm to prevent chances of the wrong weapon being engaged, shoots 2 projectiles that have probes on the end that bite into the perpetrator’s skin, and can bury themselves up to 2 inches into the flesh. A shock of 50,000 volts, which is a twelfth percent of 1 amp in strength, is then delivered. The shock renders the assailant helpless for a few seconds, allowing the officer time to handcuff and restrain them before the affects wear off.
“The shock overrides your motor skills and contracts your muscles, making it impossible to control your body for a few seconds,” said the chief. “There are no reported deaths or proven long-term effects directly related to the shock, but there have been cases where it might aggravate or intensify an underlying health condition already experienced by the defendant. But as far as we as in law enforcement go, there’s no way we would know of these issues existing prior to the incident.”
“I think I’m safe in saying that if a victim has a heart condition or other serious illness, they shouldn’t be fighting with anyone, especially the police. We can’t stop and ask questions regarding their personal health when you’re in the middle of dealing with them acting in a confrontational and aggressive manner.”
Rockel commented that police batons as well as chemical agents such as pepper spray have been used in the past to subdue an irate or violent offender, and explained that these methods of restraint fall under the pain compliance category, and can include injuries that take longer to overcome. He further stated that in some situations when you’re dealing with a mentally impaired individual with a violent temperament or someone on medications that create an adrenaline rush, they fail to work.
Tasers do not fall under the same category.
“Tasers allow our officers to render a suspect helpless from a distance of approximately 20 feet after they are repeatedly ordered to cease and desist whatever it is the officer portrays as a possible harmful situation, keeping them at a safe distance until the defendant is on the ground,” stated the chief. “Last Friday, we were called to the E.R. at Williamson Memorial to assist in restraining a patient who was high on bath salts. He was a big guy to start with, but when you factor in the adrenaline rush he’s getting from the illegal synthetic drugs, he became a force to be reckoned with. It took a total of 7 officers to restrain him before medical personnel could treat him.”
“If we would have already completed the taser certification before Friday, this situation would not have a concern. One officer plus one taser equals one restrained defendant…end of story.”
The W.P.D. is the only police agency in Mingo County currently certified to use the tasers, no municipality police, sheriff’s department or the WVSP are approved to utilize this manner of restraint.
Chief Rockel said his plan for the future is to have an instructor based within the county that could perform the training for other agencies. As of now, the closest certified teacher is in Pikeville, Ky.
“I’m very proud of my officers. They all completed the training course, including being tased, and I’m here to tell you that’s no small accomplishment,” said the chief.
“I’m sure it’s something they’ll never forget, nor wish to repeat.”