OCEAN CITY — Hoping to address concerns surrounding Ocean City’s decision to equip some officers with Taser Electronic Control Devices, the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) held a public information session and demonstration Thursday.
“We’ve spent enormous amounts of time researching this,” said OCPD Public Affairs Officer Mike Levy.
Levy, along with Chief Bernadette DiPino, spoke at length about the devices the OCPD currently has in the field, including training, facts and what situations may call for deployment of a Taser.
Sergeant Dennis Eade called the X2 model device that Ocean City will use the “Cadillac” of Tasers and noted that it was chosen both because it was a new model and for visibility.
“We got them in yellow before anybody else,” said Levy.
Levy explained that OCPD wanted a model visibly different from a handgun.
But like a handgun, Levy acknowledged that the Taser was another “tool” for officers. Unlike a firearm, however, the aim of the Taser is to diffuse a situation before it becomes violent.
“It basically overwhelms the central nervous system,” said Levy, who added that a Taser allows an officer to maintain “standoff distance” from a suspect.
“With a Taser, you can be several feet away and immobilize without ever having to touch them until you put the handcuffs on,” he said.
Levy said that Tasers have a 94-percent success rate and are even more desirable than other less-than-lethal options like pepper spray or batons because they don’t injure the suspect or require any kind of decontamination.
The X2 model used by OCPD will have a maximum range of 25 feet, though Eade asserted that officers will be much closer than that before firing.
Despite all the benefits, Levy admitted that a Taser is not “a magic bullet.”
“Taser technology is not risk free,” he said.
DiPino revealed that she was hesitant initially when the OCPD began considering Taser deployment. She said she was aware of the controversy attached to Tasers by a number of deaths associated with their use. But DiPino claimed that in each of those cases there were other factors involved, usually drugs or alcohol, which were actually responsible for the fatality, not the Taser.
After conducting research, DiPino said she was confident enough in the devices to begin a pilot program this year. Currently, the OCPD has 14 Tasers in the field issued to officers covering across all shifts. Before receiving a device, an officer goes through a three-day training course, which DiPino noted is longer than Taser requires. Seasonal officers will not be permitted to use Tasers, at least for this year.
“We’ve got very strict guidelines,” she assured a group of residents yesterday.
According to the OCPD, more than 16,500 law enforcement agencies in 100 counties use Tasers, including agencies in 29 of the 33 largest U.S. cities. But DiPino claimed Ocean City will be unique in how proactive the department aims to be in educating the public about the devices.
“Nobody else in the country has done anything like what we’re doing to get the information out,” she said.
Even though Tasers are desirable because they don’t injure suspects, DiPino added that anyone who has a Taser deployed against them will be immediately taken to the hospital just to be safe.
In attendance at the session were several public officials, including Ocean City Council members Margaret Pillas, Mary Knight and Doug Cymek. Pillas asked about some details of the Taser and how it would be deployed.
Eade explained the device would be fired at suspects who refused to cooperate with officers and usually exhibited violence or the potential threat of violence, though each incident would be judged individually. Officers are trained to fire at a suspect’s back or chest below the sternum. Once engaged, the Taser delivers voltage over a five-second period, which is controlled by the device itself, meaning it won’t matter if the officer keeps holding the trigger.
Eade added that, although the device uses 50,000 volts to fire, only 1,200 volts are felt by the target.
Because it is a pilot program, DiPino said that the success of the devices will be closely monitored over the course of the year. Every instance where a Taser is deployed or even removed from the holster will be documented. Additionally, each device tracks how many times it has been fired.
DiPino hoped the session cleared up any of the misinformation or concerns felt by the public and stressed that introducing the devices should no way reflect on questions of needing more security in town.
“Ocean City is a very safe place,” she said.