OZARK Police chief: Use of Tasers saving lives

25 incidents in 30 months higher than in larger cities

their Tasers 25 times since the department adopted the weapon 2 1 /2 years ago, and the police chief believes the tool has saved lives.

“It keeps the officer safe, and it keeps the subject safe,” Chief Jim Noggle said. “That’s what we’re after.”

The department’s use of Tasers came under scrutiny after an officer used his Taser on a 10-year-old girl who was throwing a tantrum and kicked him in the groin.

Noggle fired officer Dustin Bradshaw after the Nov. 11 incident because of his consistent failure to wear and use video equipment issued to him by the department. That equipment included a lapel video camera and a camera on the Taser.

Noggle determine Bradshaw’s use of the Taser conformed to the department’s policy, which doesn’t say an officer shouldn’t use his Taser on a child. The mother of the girl also gave Bradshawpermission to use the Taser on her daughter if necessary, Bradshaw’s report said.

An officer’s mere mention of a Taser has made some resisting suspects stop and comply with officers’ instructions, Noggle said. Tasers are better than pepper sprays because some people are allergic to the pepper, which could cause health problems, he said.

The Taser X26 that Ozark officers use also was adopted by the Fort Smith and Fayetteville police departments. The model fires two probes attached to the end of wires that stick to a person’s skin. The officer then can administer a weak electric shock that momentarily immobilizes the person.

The Taser also can be used to administer a “drive stun,” in which an officer touches two metal prongs at the tip of the Taser to a person’s skin to administer a shock. Bradshaw used the “drive stun” technique when he shocked the 10-year-old girl.

Noggle said he recalled one situation in which a Franklin County deputy was holding a gun on a knife-wielding suspect. If an Ozark officer had not shown up and brandished his Taser to diffuse the situation, the suspect might have been shot and possibly killed, Noggle said.

The Fort Smith Police Department’s training officer, Sgt. James Hayes, agreed with Noggle that Tasers save lives. If an officer encounters someone wielding a knife, he knows he can use the Taser and not be injured or injure the suspect.

“If we have to fight to get a person under control and if the person keeps fighting, we have to keep hurting him,” Hayes said.

Ozark officers used the Tasers fewer than a dozen times each full year the weapons have been in use, according to a review of police records obtained under the state Freedom of Information Act. In addition to the incident involving the 10-year-old girl, Ozark officers used the devices 24 other times since June 2007, when they first were added to the officers’ equipment belts. The records show officers used Tasers three times in 2007, 11 times in 2008 and 11 times this year.

Using the 2008 figure - the only full year of reporting - Ozark officers used the Taser once for every 320 people in the town of 3,500. The other two Northwest Arkansas agencies using the same Taser model reported far fewer Taser uses when considering the population.

Fort Smith reported officers used Tasers 48 times in the 80,000-population city in 2008, or once for every 1,666 people. In Fayetteville, officer used Tasers 62 times in the 67,000-population city in 2008, or once for every 1,080 people.

Noggle said the comparison doesn’t hold weight because Ozark police have to deal with more than just the city’s residents. Ozark gets more than its share of alcoholrelated criminal cases because it is the center of a wet county surrounded by dry counties, he said.

While Bradshaw’s actions were scrutinized, two other policemen used the device more often than Bradshaw. According to the reports, officers Travis Ball and Justin Phillips each used the Tasers eight times while Bradshaw has used it seven times. Another officer, Jonathan Little, used the Taser twice.

All of the officers had been employed before the Tasers were introduced except for Ball, who joined the force in April 2008.

The situations under which the Tasers were used fell into three general categories: 11 incidents in which someone refused to submit to or resisted arrest; six incidents in whichofficers were called to the jail to deal with unruly inmates or arrested individuals; and six in which persons were drunk and resisted arrest.

None of the Taser incidents resulted in injury to the officer or to the suspects, the records show.

The first case in which an Ozark officer used a Taser after the department adopted them involved a call to the county jail because an inmate was using cloth from a mat to try to start a fire in his cell and would not obey jailers’ orders to stop. Ozark and Franklin County have an agreement that requires city police officers to respond when the county needs assistance, Noggle said.

The officer, Bradshaw, said he pulled out his Taser after seeing the inmate kick a jailer in the groin. It took two jolts with the Taser to immobilize the inmate and allow a jailer to handcuff him.

Two months later, Bradshaw again was called to the jail where an unruly inmate was screaming, kicking the cell door and trying to flood the cell. The inmate announced he was going to resist efforts to move him to the drunk tank, telling jailers and officers “I’m not going that easy.”

Bradshaw had to “drive stun” the inmate because the inmate had wrapped up the Taser wires by swinging a wet towel.

“The Taser was very effective in assisting us to safely restrain the inmate, and I do not feel that it could have been possible to safely restrain him without it,” Bradshaw wrote in his report.

At the request of Noggle and Ozark Mayor Vernon Mc-Daniel, the Arkansas State Police and FBI are investigating the Nov. 11 incident involving the 10-year-old girl. The officials don’t believe there was any criminal wrongdoing but said they wanted an outside appraisal of Bradshaw’s actions.

McDaniel said he believes the state police could finish their investigation by the middle of January but that he didn’t know when the FBI could complete its investigation.

Noggle said he has received only two phone calls about the Nov. 11 incident, both of them from out of state. He said he believes Ozark residents have accepted the department’s use of Tasers.

Northwest Arkansas, Pages 19 on 12/27/2009

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