What, not all officers Taser equipped?

January 16, 2013 

Members of Macon’s City Council were surprised to find that not all police officers are equipped with a Taser, an electronic device that can incapacitate a suspect in lieu of using deadly force. The Public Safety Committee grilled Police Capt. Jimmy Barbee about the fatal shooting Dec. 21, 2012 of Sammie Davis Jr., by officer Clayton Sutton.

The public might have been surprised as well with knowledge that only SWAT team members carried the device, but there were news reports dating back at least 8 years where the department said not all officers were certified and equipped with Tasers.

Council members could go back to January 2010 when Barbee told The Telegraph after Louis Atkinson was fatally shot by officers in Village Green, the second such fatality in two months and the ninth over a period of 3 years.

Barbee, who has been on the police force for 42 years said at the time, “If you are in reasonable fear of your life or the life of someone else, you can use deadly force.” But Barbee went on to explain that officers are instructed, according to the story, “to use a scale of responses to match the force displayed by another person ... starting with verbal commands, with the next step adding hands-on defensive techniques that temporarily disable a suspect.” We don’t know if those techniques were used in the Davis shooting.

In July 2009, a Macon detective used his Taser when attacked by two assailants. In April 2011, an officer with a Taser was requested at a scene where a 6-foot-4-inch, 350-pound patient of River Edge became agitated. The officer with a Taser didn’t arrive in time, but the officer on the scene traded lollipops for the weapons the man carried.

Council is right to question why all officers are not equipped with Tasers. However, council has to step up to the plate when the $500 bill per Taser and the additional cost of certification comes due. By the way, one of the requirements for carrying a Taser is to be tased. It’s understandable that some officers are reluctant to be hit with 50,000 volts.

Chief Mike Burns should be punching the numbers on his calculator as he prepares his next budget. Our guess is that the equipment cost will be north of $125,000, a price well worth it if it can prevent fatalities from the use of deadly force.

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