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November 04, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, November 04, 2005

City to hold Taser hearings City to hold Taser hearings (November 04, 2005)

By Jon Wiener

Mountain View police officers used Taser stun guns on local residents seven times in the last year, and the chief says he plans to buy more.

Police officials say the 50,000-volt handheld devices are potential lifesavers, but the city council is not so sure. Last week, council members asked the city's human relations commission to schedule hearings on the matter.

Police Chief Scott Vermeer mentioned the seven incidents in an Oct. 11 presentation to the council. Two weeks later, the council received a report from the ACLU, and heard a presentation by former public defender turned anti-Taser activist Aram James, indicating that in some departments, Tasers are being used when other, proven forms of non-lethal force could have sufficed.

Council members voted 6-0 to refer the issue to the commission, saying it wanted more information about the issue.

"I don't know whether they're a good idea or not yet," said council member Greg Perry, who made the motion. "Intuitively, they seem safer than firearms or clubs. In practice, they've turned out to be more dangerous."

The police department has 10 Tasers, which officers hand off to each other during shift changes. Vermeer said he is planning to order more during next year's budget cycle. The devices cost about $800 apiece.

The increased use of Taser guns since the department received its first units last fall is part of a trend toward what Vermeer calls "less-lethal technologies." Other examples of this include the outfitting of each squad car with shotguns modified to shoot beanbag bullets (the gun stocks are painted orange so as to avoid confusion) and the introduction of a tactic known as "pursuit immobilization technique." The latter is designed to prevent police chases from reaching dangerous speeds by teaching officers to bump cars in such a way that they spin out and stall.

"We want the least amount of force that can be used in a situation," said Vermeer. "I believe we're serving the community by making the tools available."

Vermeer said he did not put much stock in reports linking Taser gun use to deaths of suspects in police custody -- the ACLU report counted more than 100 such deaths in the past four years -- and pointed to local examples when Tasers could have played a big role in helping officers reach a safe resolution.

For example, Vermeer said, Mountain View police confronted a 6-foot-8, 365-pound man tossing around a 200-pound officer "like a rag doll."

Vermeer will be making a presentation to the human relations commission Nov. 3 at 6:30 p.m. in the Adobe Building, at 157 Moffett Blvd.

E-mail Jon Wiener at [email protected]

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