Donation puts crime-fighting tool in hands of Cape police

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Before the summer is over, the Cape Girardeau Police Department expects to have enough Tasers to start putting officers on the street armed with them and a policy in place governing their use.

The Evening Optimist Club recently donated $3,200 to the police department, enough to buy four Tasers. Earlier this year, Cape Girardeau County Sheriff John Jordan donated two Tasers, and the police department bought 13 more which arrived last week, said Sgt. Rick Schmidt.

Nineteen Tasers won't give every officer one to use, but it is a start. Schmidt, already a Taser instructor, will go back for more training in mid-August; he is optimistic that a second instructor will also be trained.

"As soon as we get the policy signed and the officers trained on the policy and the Tasers, then they will start taking them out," Schmidt said. "It's a top priority."

Officer Daniel Seger could have used a Taser just last week, Schmidt said. Seger was held up as an example for why Tasers are so effective when Jordan donated the first two to the department. His shoulder was injured in October during a scuffle with a suspect. He was off work until just recently, and the cost of treating his injuries mounted into the thousands of dollars.

"Seger just got back in uniform after hurting his shoulder eight or nine months ago," Schmidt said. "He stopped a guy for expired plates. The guy got out of the car and started scuffling, and they went to the ground. He could have used a Taser then."

Schmidt said he could think of at least three occasions in the past month where a Taser would have been useful.

A Taser is a revolver-sized instrument that uses compressed nitrogen to fire electric probes into an unruly suspect. The advantage to a Taser over Mace or pepper spray is that the charge disables the suspect immediately and once it wears off there are no lingering effects.

"The person is immediately back the way he was, only a little more irritated," Schmidt said.

Once the probe hits, a light electrical charge disables the suspect for about five seconds, giving the officer enough time to either handcuff the suspect or convince him to lie down and stay there until backup arrives.

Tasers cost about $800 each, Schmidt said. The one-time-use cartridges they fire cost $24.

"They're expensive, but you get what you pay for," Schmidt said.

Once word gets out among the criminal element that Tasers are on the street, the demand for their use, and thus their expense, will lessen.

"It will be an interesting thing to track, the number of assaults on a law enforcement officer before the Tasers, and the assaults on a law enforcement afterward," Schmidt said.

The Evening Optimist Club raises money through bingo and other fund raisers, mostly to help children, said Pat Patterson, president of the group. The Optimists also sponsor a nationwide Respect for Law Enforcement week, overseen locally by Mike Hurst.

Hurst said he heard about the need the police department has for Tasers and approached the Optimists about making a one-time donation.

"We do try to help whenever there is a great need," Hurst said, "and there is a great need for this particular instrument."

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