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Athens Police Are Arming Themselves with Tasers

This may come as a shock, but ACC police are arming themselves with tasers.

UGA Law Professor Emeritus Donald E. Wilkes, Jr. wrote at length on the dangers of tasers on last week, but Lt. Justin Gregory, ACCPD’s training administrator, attributed taser-related deaths and injuries to improperly trained officers. ACCPD’s 145 taser-wielding patrolmen won’t have that problem, he said, citing as proof of their safety the fact that each officer who’s issued a taser must, per department policy, submit to being tased himself.

According to Gregory, tasers will reduce the potential for injuries to both suspects and officers—“I really want to stress this: reduce the potential for deadly conflict,” he said—by giving lawmen an alternative to a gun or baton. The devices are painful, yes, but their main purpose is to temporarily short-circuit the nervous system. If the taser is used correctly, a suspect fully recovers within seconds, Gregory said.

ACCPD’s use-of-force policy calls for officers first to talk with suspects, then escalate to putting their hands on them gently, then using force, according to the suspect’s response. Passive resistance—a protester refusing to move—gets a hand on the back. Active resistance or assault—throwing a punch or pulling a knife—might be a situation where a taser is used. The severity of the crime is another consideration: Someone who runs at a traffic stop shouldn’t be tased, but an armed robbery suspect might be.

“It is a tool that will be utilized at a very high level of active resistance into assaultive behavior by the suspect,” Gregory said.

Gregory quoted statistics showing that ACCPD officers rarely use force—in only 273 out 144,000 interactions with the public last year, or 0.16 percent, he said, compared to 1 percent for law enforcement nationwide.

The tasers ACCPD purchased record information about each time they’re fired. Higher-ups, a peer review panel and a doctor will review the circumstances each time a taser is fired, Interim Chief Carter Greene said.

Unfortunately—especially with everything that’s happened in Ferguson, New York, Baltimore and elsewhere, and the resulting tension between minorities and police all over the country—only one person attended the session (not counting government officials and the news media). Two more public forums on tasers are planned but not scheduled, said Greene, who added that he was disappointed with the turnout Apr. 29.

To their credit, the local department has responded to nationwide outrage over African American deaths at the hands of police with a new level of transparency. They also invited the public to participate in “fair and impartial policing” training for officers to teach them how to react without bias. Contact Gregory for more information at 706-613-3888 ext. 235 or