GRANITE?FALLS?-?About 22 area law enforcement and corrections officers trained for re-certification as Taser instructors for their agencies at Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Granite Falls on Monday and Tuesday under the direction of Senior Master Instructor Tom Munsey.
The Taser is a non-lethal electroshock weapon that uses pulsed electrical current to disrupt voluntary muscle control and for non-injury pain compliance.
"On a scale of one to 10, how painful is it to be tased?" Munsey asked the class.
"Eleven,"?said one of the participants.
Munsey then asked the class what the good thing about being tased was.
"That it goes right away when it stops," another participant answered.
During the two days of training, officers were familiarized with Taser design and function, practiced with the equipment, and watched videos of combative and suicidal suspects being subdued with Tasers.
Munsey described the purpose of the training, and what those getting certified and re-certified as training officers were expected to take back to their agencies.
"There's tactics and technology involved," Munsey said. "There's methodology. We're focusing on the instructional skills to be better in their task. The whole concept is to protect life. We're giving them the skill set to protect life. The Taser uses the same electromagnetic wavelength the brain uses to control your muscles and locks the muscles so you can't move."
The first model Taser was developed in 1974 and named the "Tom A. Swift Electric Rifle," after a popular series of boys' books. The Taser shoots an electric dart on a wire connected to a battery in the butt of the weapon.
But today's model X26 is not your grandfather's Taser.
What Munsey took the class through is a highly-sophisticated weapon that has status displays showing arming status, cartridge status, equipment diagnostics, an options menu, and enhanced data logs that record date and time of arming, warning arcs, and deployment of the cartridges. There is also a videocamera option that records every incident where the Taser is deployed that was developed after complaints of injuries and deaths from misuse of Tasers by officers. Between the data log and the video option, every use of the Taser can be checked against the officer's account of the incident.
Seth Reinke from the Watonwan County Sheriff's Office was re-certifying as an instructor.
"The advantage of a Taser is the fact there's no side effects afterwards," Reinke said. "With pepper spray you don't just spray the suspect, you spray yourself if the wind is wrong."
Tyron Warren from the Becker County Sheriff's Office agreed.
"I'd take a Taser any day," Warren said. "After pepper spray you go home and take a shower and the stuff runs down out of your hair. You transport a suspect with the windows open and your head hanging out trying to breathe."
Matthew Loeslie, who directs law enforcement training at Minnesota West, said the advantages of a Taser include: officer safety, suspect safety, reduction of liability issues.
Loeslie pointed out Tasers can save departments a lot of liability claims, when even a shooting ruled justified can cost a department tens of thousands of dollars to clear.
Since the Taser has become well-known, law enforcement officers claim it has had a de-escalating effect as well. Officers say during confrontations with belligerent or suicidal suspects, they know there is a certain threshold that has to be crossed to justify using a firearm, or even a baton. With the non-lethal Taser, the threshold for deployment is much lower.
Jody Gladis, a Marshall Police officer, has actually seen the use of Tasers decrease in the 14 years the department has issued them.
"Use has dropped drastically since people know about them," Gladis said. "In 1998 Tasers were used eight times a year in Marshall. Now it's about four times a year."