Police Chief Larke Plyler hopes that issuing Tasers to officers will defuse potentially dangerous situations – without ever discharging the weapon.
On Monday the Stallings Town Council will vote on a proposed Taser use policy. If approved, all on-duty Stallings police officers could be carrying Tasers by mid-October.
Tasers, weapons that use electroshocks to temporarily disable, have become increasingly popular with law enforcement agencies. They can serve as “less-than-lethal” weapons that temporarily incapacitate aggressive subjects. Their use also has been controversial, as people have died or been severely injured following Taser shocks.
According to the North Carolina Taser Safety Project, 10 people have died in North Carolina from Taser shocks since 2006. A 17-year-old Charlotte teenager died in March of a heart attack after police used a Taser on him.
Plyler said the Stallings Police Department has talked about using Tasers since it was founded. The town council recently approved spending about $15,000 on 10 Taser guns, cartridges and training. The Union sheriff's office carries the weapons already.
“The general public has screamed for many years to have a less-than-lethal weapon for law enforcement,” Plyler said. “Part of that criteria was met with pepper spray and pepper foam, but the effectiveness on some individuals was limited.
“We've heard from other law enforcement agencies that when they implemented Tasers in their towns, it quieted down some hostile situations without ever deploying them,” Plyler said. “It's my hope that just having the Taser available against an aggressive individual will calm the situation down.”
This year, some Stallings town council members were vocal in supporting Tasers for the police department. The budget allocation was approved 5-1.
Council member Wyatt Dunn was the lone opposing vote. He helped the department draft a strict Taser policy.
“I still firmly believe that Stallings is a very safe community,” he said. “Our crime is very low, as the crime statistics prove, and I just don't think we need to spend in excess of $15,000 (on Tasers).”
Dunn read a recent study by the North Carolina Taser Safety Project and used information from it to beef up the Stallings Police Department's draft policy.
“If we're going to have them, I want to make sure we have policies in place to protect the officers, the town and the average citizen,” Dunn said.
The new draft policy has added prohibitions against Taser use on women who appear pregnant, minors, the elderly, disabled people, people who resist passively and people who are restrained. Tasers cannot be used near flammable liquids.
The draft also provides guidelines for multiple firings of a Taser.
Plyler said he has ordered 10 Tasers for the town. Each will be outfitted with a camera and audio recorder that will activate when the Taser is pointed at a subject.
“It's a very nice feature that can help with liability issues,” Plyler said.
Stallings Police Sgt. Heath Cranford will attend a conference in eastern North Carolina later this month to become a certified Taser instructor. He will train the remaining 23 officers in the department, Plyler said.