I'm glad to see towns around Charlotte debating the use of Tasers.
The stun guns are powerful weapons that can help police stop a bad guy without resorting to gunshots. But they also deliver an extremely painful, paralyzing shock – and should be used only in the most critical circumstances.
I know this first-hand, because I got Tased.
It was 2006. I hadn't committed a crime or otherwise provoked a police officer. I actually volunteered to "ride the lightning," as some officers call the Taser shock.
I was 24 and a new reporter covering Gaston County Police. The department's policy required that any officer selected to carry a Taser had to get zapped - so the officer would fully appreciate the pain and paralysis caused by the shock. So I figured a good reporter who planned to write about Tasers ought to know the pain too.
The video from that day gets great laughs in the newsroom: There I am, 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, standing between two beefy Gaston County police officers. Electrodes are attached to my foot and shoulder. An officer pulls the Taser trigger, and instantly, I stiffen and go down.
It lasted five seconds, they told me. I lost count after three. It's still the worst pain I've ever felt. Electricity hummed in my ears and my muscles contracted as my body conducted 50,000 volts.
I got up off the padded floor with an embarrassed smile - and a scorch mark on my right shoulder. It's a scar now, and I'm pretty sure will never go away.
I have since written dozens of stories about Tasers. They're widely used in Charlotte and the region, although the town of Stallings recently abandoned its use of Tasers to avoid possible liability issues.
A 2008 study by the advocacy group N.C. Taser Safety Project found improper Taser use contributed to 11 deaths in North Carolina in the prior four years. The biggest complaint I've heard at crime scenes is that officers are too quick to use the devices instead of employing other methods to de-escalate a situation.
CMPD shocked suspects 120 times in 2008, including a teen who died from cardiac arrest after he was shot with a Taser during a dispute in a grocery store. The officer was disciplined for shocking the suspect for too long (37 seconds) and the city paid the teen's family a $625,000 settlement. CMPD officers were given additional training in proper Taser use.
The next year, Taser use fell significantly. CMPD used the device 80 times in 2009. Some departments have reclassified Tasers as less lethal, instead of nonlethal. Others have clarified their policies after the U.S. Department of Justice urged agencies not to use Tasers, if possible, on small children, the elderly, people with heart disease or pregnant women.
It's good to see Taser policies evolve as we learn more about this effective - and very painful - weapon. --Cleve R. Wootson Jr.