Tuesday, December 10, 2013
A growing number of confrontations between police and people who are suicidal or suffering from mental illness has led the Sanford Police Department to buy three long-range Tasers, which can disable a person with an electric charge from as far as 100 feet away.
The Taser X12 was purchased by the Sanford police as an alternative to deadly force.
Courtesy Taser International
Sanford Police Chief Tom Connolly Jr. says he hopes the weapons will enable his officers to calm situations in which an officer or a distraught person could be killed or seriously injured.
"It has become a major issue in law enforcement, dealing with people with mental illness," Connolly said. "If we had something where, 50 or 70 feet away, you could disable and restrain them, that would be a win-win for everyone."
Sanford police are believed to be Maine's first law enforcement agency to purchase the Taser X12, said Connolly. The relatively new product is based on a Mossberg 12-gauge, pump-action shotgun. It has a yellow stock and barrel, to identify it as a less lethal weapon.
In line with national trends, Maine police increasingly are responding to incidents involving suicidal and mentally ill people. Some of the encounters turn threatening, and police may resort to deadly force to end them.
Such incidents always are controversial, and police are seeking alternatives. Many officers carry the now-familiar hand-held Tasers, which can disable a person from as far as 20 feet away.
All of Sanford's 40 officers are assigned hand-held Tasers, Connolly said.
One limitation of the hand-held Taser is its limited distance. The Taser X12, with its 100-foot range and 20-second electric discharge, can give police time to disarm and subdue a suspect from a safer position, Connolly said.
Connolly, who worked previously in a police agency near Washington, D.C., said he saw the Taser X12 six months ago and recognized its potential value in Sanford. Each weapon costs $700, and each projectile cartridge costs $100. Training rounds cost roughly $10.
"If these $700 Tasers save even one life, they have more than paid for themselves," Connolly said.
Connolly is developing a policy for his department that will put two Taser X12s in patrol cars and one with the shift supervisor. The policy calls for a team approach during crisis calls, with one officer carrying the Taser X12 and another prepared to use lethal force, if needed.
Connolly's action is being welcomed by the Maine affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the mental health patient advocacy organization. Tasers are controversial in the mental health community, said Carol Carothers, the group's executive director, because there's concern that they can be used inappropriately.
"But when police departments are buying Tasers, we're all for that," she said. "They reduce the use of deadly force."
It's too soon to know whether the Taser shotgun will be embraced by other Maine police agencies.
The device is relatively new, said Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, so not all law enforcement agencies are familiar with it. It's also expensive, at a time of tight budgets.
Many Maine police are expected to attend an industry trade show next month in South Portland at which Taser will have an exhibit, Schwartz said. It's possible the company will display the X12.
"If you can use less-than-deadly force, it's to everyone's advantage," he said.
Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org