Harlem police add six TASER guns to arsenal

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February 23, 2007

HARLEM, Ga.---A local police chief defends his purchase of new TASER guns, saying they're less lethal than any other weapon on the force.

The Harlem Police Department has joined Aiken County in giving each of its officers a TASER gun. The department ordered six of them to use on suspects who don't cooperate.

But both Richmond and Columbia counties aren't convinced they're safe.

Imagine 50,000 volts penetrating your body. It may not be fun, but the Harlem Police chief says it's not as dangerous as some might think.

"We know what this is capable of," Chief Jerry Baldwin told News 12. "You have no control of your muscles whatsoever."

The Harlem Police Department now has six TASER guns.

TASER guns are tools meant to immobilize suspects who don't cooperate with police.

Two wire probes penetrate the skin.

"It does hurt for the five seconds," Chief Baldwin said.

The $600 guns also temporarily disrupt motor skills, causing a person to fall.

Col. Gary Powell of Richmond County says that's risky.

"We just don't want to take that liability until they're proven to be effectively safe," he said.

The Richmond County Sheriff's Office has decisively chosen not to purchase TASER guns due to news reports of TASER-related injuries and even death.

"(We're) just kind of sitting back and waiting for more research and a better outlook for them," Col. Powell said.

But Chief Baldwin is already sold.

"This is probably the best tool that's been introduced into law enforcement," he said.

Up until now, his officers have relied only on batons and OC spray as alternatives to bullets.

Chief Baldwin showed us security measures built into each TASER. There are serial numbers on both the cartridge and confetti released after the shot.

The chief can even track how many times a TASER was pulled from an officer's holster.

"Provided you have a strong policy in place--which we do--and the officers use these TASERs correctly, then there shouldn't be any issues, period," he said.

As part of their training, five Harlem police officers were tased, including the chief. Of those five, only one of them bled and needed a band-aid.

But the chief says that injury is nothing compared to the bruises a baton might leave on somebody.

Amnesty International is criticizing TASER gun manufacturers. The human rights group reports 103 TASER-related deaths in the US and Canada between June 2001 and March 2005.

But TASER International, Inc. claims the guns have saved more than six thousand lives.

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