This summer, campus public safety officers will begin carrying the X26 Taser stun gun, but its main use will not be against students.
Michael Soto, chief of Campus Public Safety, said Tasers will make it safer and quicker to control violent resisters – who usually are not students, but trouble-making intruders.
“We are looking at making the X26 part of our toolbox the first part of July,” Soto said. The university will buy four or five of the advanced X26 model introduced last May by Taser International, priced at $799 each. They are in increasing demand from police departments across the nation, to the extent that delivery now can take as many as eight weeks.
In advance, Soto has mandated extensive training, strict rules for use and the reporting and investigation of all Taser incidents, as called for by Taser defense system guidelines.
The X26 model can be used either as a contact device or fitted with a cartridge which uses compressed nitrogen to shoot two small probes up to 21 feet from the target. The probes are connected to the device by insulated wire and transmit powerful electrical pulses into their target through up to two inches of clothing. The stun gun generates 50,000 volts at low amperage, which means the charge has considerable pressure but not much intensity.
The Taser affects the target via electro-muscular disruption that effectively causes collapse without bodily injury. A half-second jolt is said to startle an attacker, one or two seconds will create muscle spasms and daze the target. A jolt of five seconds, which is what the electric wire probes sustain, will cause unbalance, disorientation and loss of muscle control.
When used as a direct contact device, the stun gun’s effect will depend on how long the device is held in contact. Campus officers will receive a contact shot of one second as part of their X26 training.
Willamette Week’s coverage of Portland police’s adoption of the Taser suggests the move was one means to reduce gun incidents, but that Tasers, too, were perhaps being overused.
Campus officers don’t carry firearms. Their current means of subduing violent resisters are the use of retractable batons and OC pepper spray containing oleoresin capsicum.
“Some suspects can fight right through those,” said Lt. Craig Whitten, who is Soto’s chief of operations and training. This can be particularly true of suspects under the influence of intoxicants.
But do Tasers raise the level of force dispensable by campus officers?
Actually, Tasers lower the force level, Soto said. He pointed to a “bible” of campus public safety, the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training Continuum issued by the state police academy in Monmouth. It rates the levels of force in sequence: 1. Presence. 2. Verbal communication. 3. Physical contact. 4. Physical control. 5. Serious physical control. 6. Deadly control. Impact weapons such as the baton and spray are rated 5, serious physical control. Electronic stun devices are rated 4, physical control, a step less forceful.
In his procedural directive for Taser use, Soto is ordering officers to follow the state guidelines. In addition, he authorizes the Taser in three circumstances. The officer may defend himself/herself or a third party from what is reasonably believed an immediate threat of physical injury or death. The officer may use it to prevent the commission of suicide or self-inflicted serious physical injury. Lastly, the officer may deter a vicious or aggressive animal that threatens the safety of the officer or others.
The chief emphasized that using the Tasers won’t be automatic. It will be employed when it becomes evident that the officer will find it easier, quicker and safer to gain control of a potentially violent situation.
Officers will receive 10 hours of training under a designated trainer. They must file complete reports of Taser use. They will be required to place all Taser probes into evidence. The probes have built-in records of discharge. All cases of use will be investigated.
Soto feels his officers are fulfilling their responsibility of making the campus safe without the Tasers, but sometimes under difficulty.
“Last year we had over 800 suspicious persons calls,” he said. “Of that, we made about 200 warrant arrests.” He said there were at least three or four incidents that could have called for a Taser.
In one, an officer attempted to arrest a bicycle thief and was struck in the face by bolt cutters. In another, a man with a knife was confronted in the Smith Memorial Student Union basement. Pepper spray did not subdue him and the officer was aided by two construction workers to control the suspect.
A third incident occurred at Millar library, where a subject became extremely combative when officers attempted to place him into a patrol car. He was kicking and biting and officers were able to restrain him only by pressing a car door against him while they awaited the arrival of Portland police.
“The majority of the people we’re contacting are non-students,” Whitten said. “They’re streetwise. Their knowledge of compliance would be greater.” This means they are familiar with the Taser and when they see the officer point the Taser to the ground and shoot off a few visible sparks they are more likely to submit without causing serious physical injury.
Soto is sensitive to community evaluation of CPSO operation. He sees as the mission of CPSO “to improve the quality of life by preserving the peace and safety of the community through the formation of partnerships; creating positive interaction between the public and the public safety office while continuing to serve the unique needs of the campus community.”
The chief is in the process of developing a strategic plan that includes formation of a campus public safety advisory committee. The proposed membership would include three students to be appointed by ASPSU, two faculty members, one classified staff member and one professional staff person from the office of student affairs. Other non-voting members would come from various administrative offices.
Whitten referred to Willamette Week implications that some people had died after being tased and that the Taser might cause adverse effects among old people and diabetics. Whitten noted that a Taser International spokesman has claimed the deaths were all coincidental and had nothing to do with the Tasers. As for the diabetics and old people, these appeared to be speculative or based on anecdotal complaints made by persons personally tased.
Tasers are available in a consumer model but carrying one on campus is illegal. In discussing Tasers, Whitten revealed a little understood fact, that it is illegal for students or faculty to carry pepper spray on campus. Oregon law forbids weapons in public places. Pepper spray and Tasers are classified as weapons under ORS 166.360.
Soto and Whitten, accompanied at times by Jay Kenton, vice president for finance and administration, have made presentations on the new Taser policy to the office of finance and administration, the president’s executive committee, the president’s advisory committee of faculty and staff, the faculty senate, ASPSU officers and the student senate.
Soto said he may schedule open forums on the Taser. He said it may be possible that students who want to sample what it feels like to be tased could be administered a brief charge of the voltage.