Point/Counterpoint: To stun or kill' is the question

Phil Kent

In Atlanta, four innocent lives may have been saved if the prisoner who escaped from the Fulton County Courthouse could only have gotten his hands on officers' TASERs. That's why the device, which fires two electrically wired darts up to 25 feet and freezes the muscles of the targeted individual, is the weapon of choice for thousands of law enforcement agencies. If an officer is jumped, lives can be saved when no firearm is involved.

It's no wonder that public officials like Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard say TASERs provide "a huge service" and why more courthouses and penal facilities are using TASERs or re-evaluating policy with an eye toward getting them. In fact, just recently, Great Britain - well aware of the pros and cons of TASERs - approved them for use by its famed "Bobbies" and other law enforcers.

When Cesar Rada was killed by a policeman's bullet last October, it was the 17th documented shooting of a mentally ill person in Miami-Dade County since 1999 according to local Judge Steven Leifman. In fact, under the judge's guidance, Miami has been giving its officers more response training involving TASERs rather than firearms. Four months ago a Miami grand jury report strongly recommended that police continue using TASERs to subdue volatile suspects. "It saves lives!" the report declares.

The public continues to support TASERs as a crime-fighting and security tool. A February survey by the independent research firm Zogby International found 77 percent of respondents supported officers continuing to use them as opposed to chemical agents, riot batons and handguns when dealing with violent suspects. A recent CNBC poll found 63 percent of its viewers would use a TASER if it was legal in their state.

Count this writer as a TASER believer. As a journalist for The Augusta Chronicle, I once was used as a "guinea pig" by police. They stunned me with a TASER from about 15 feet away and it felt like I'd been belted with a lead pipe!

I was reminded that those who get zapped like this are more likely to be suspects who are drug users or on medications that cause heart problems. In spite of misleading propaganda from groups like Amnesty International, TASERs naturally pose far less danger to these people than getting shot, hit, or being slammed against a vehicle to be handcuffed. Interestingly, the Army has been attaching TASERs to some soldiers' assault rifles in Iraq, thus giving them the flexibility to fire either a bullet or the electrified darts.

TASERs are used about 100,000 times a year by 6,000 police departments. According to TASER International, more than 4,000 lives have been saved by their device since 1999, including prisoners, law enforcement officers, mental patients and potential suicides.

The Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company welcomes any responsible independent research concerning its product, and says it is continuing to fund additional study in responding to safety concerns. (Significantly, a U.S. Air Force review last year of police reports and other research concluded that the weapon didn't appear to cause heart damage in healthy adults.)

Can any use of force cause some kind of injury? Yes. But that doesn't mean the public should buy into the claims of some bleeding hearts that TASERs could be dangerous. Fire back to these critics with two big questions: What's the alternative? Getting shot by a bullet, gassed or being cracked by a nightstick?

Phil Kent is an Atlanta free-lance journalist, author and pundit on Atlanta's Fox 5 TV's Georgia Gang.