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Seeking a non-lethal solution

Kitsap County Sheriff Steve Boyer is always on the lookout for safer ways deputies can, when necessary, restrain violent or erratic-acting suspects without harming them.

During an average year, deputies respond to about 90,000 calls for service, said Boyer. That number doesn’t include traffic stops or other investigations. The trouble is, deputies never know when they will walk into a volatile, dangerous situation.

That’s why Boyer issued 15 taser weapons at about $600 a pop to various deputies throughout his department this last February. There are at least 10 more on the way this fall.

In Kitsap County, tasers are considered to be on the same level as pepper spray — they hurt a bit, but can be used by deputies to detain a subject without too much fear using it will cause temporary or permanent harm. Plus, it’s more accurate than pepper spray.

“This is very much a success story,” said Boyer. “The more tools there are in the tool box for a deputy, the more deputies can deal with different scenarios.”

Without having to use a gun, or engaging in a physical scuffle.

When the tasers first came out in February, Deputy Lori Blankenship taught her comrades all about the gadgets and how to use them in the line of duty. Each session lasted four hours, followed by a written test.

“Tasers have been used safely on a pregnant woman and a subject with a pacemaker,” said Blankenship. “They have been lab tested for safety and reliability.”

Blankenship says certain situations call for using tasers. For instance, if a suspect is combative, has taken drugs or appears unstable and won’t listen to negotiations or guidance. That way, the suspect is detained and no one gets hurt.

Tasers look a lot like guns and are carried around in holsters just like a gun. The big difference is, the taser deploys two , 21-foot-long wire probes that can penetrate up to four inches of clothing. Once solid contact is made, 26 watts of energy ripple throughout the suspect’s body, disabling the nervous and sensory systems. The surge lasts for 5 seconds but can be administered repeatedly.

Once a suspect takes a hit, he or she crumples up and faints just long enough for a responding deputy to detain the suspect without any injury or further incident.

Before the taser is fired, a red, laser-like dot appears to pinpoint the target.

“On two different occasions, the suspects in question saw the red dot and decided not to deal with it and put their hands behind their back,” said Blankenship.

Since the first batch of tasers were issued in February, deputies have used them on 13 different occasions. Part and parcel to a taser is an electronic log that records how often deputies use it and when. If a taser is deployed while on duty, that deputy also fills out a report, detailing the incident.

“That way we can track and have records of how often they are used and there is some system for accountability,” said Boyer.

The tasers have been so useful, Boyer and other deputies are looking into securing other forms of “less-lethal” protection such as bean-bag shotguns.

With Kitsap County Sheriff deputies responding to thousands of 911-calls every year it’s difficult to predict when a situation will turn dangerous.

“I don’t know of any deputy who wants to have to use force,” said Boyer. “But they can’t just decide a situation is too dangerous and leave, either. They have to resolve it.”

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