DC police arm patrol sergeants with Tasers as part of pilot program

- After years of resisting, D.C. police are finally arming its officers with stun guns. It is part of a pilot program that kicked off a few months ago.

Tasers have been used for years by law enforcement agencies nationwide, but the police department in the District had been one of the last holdouts.

For now, only patrol sergeants citywide have been issued the devices, which can discharge 50,000 volts of electricity.

Matt Mahl, the chairman of the D.C. Police Union, said it is about time.

“It adds another less lethal option to your tool belt,” he said. “I go back to the very first Taser deployment that we had. It could have likely turned into a lethal force situation in the matter of a second, but it worked that we were able to diffuse the situation with the Taser. No one is hurt for the worse and that gentleman's life was saved.”

It is unclear why the police department had resisted for so long. Through a spokesperson, D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham did not respond to a request for comment.

Mahl said the Tasers have the ability to activate body-worn cameras as soon as they are removed from an officer’s holster.

"It becomes activated the minute you draw it from your holster,” said Mahl. “It sends a Bluetooth pulse in about a 30-foot radius to activate everyone's cameras.”

Mahl said the Tasers have already been deployed a couple of dozen times. A D.C. police spokesperson said that Tasers have been used 12 times intentionally and four times negligently since June.

Officers who have the Tasers say just the threat of using one can get an unruly person to comply with their demands.

"It's a hefty financial price tag to get us started and rolling so we have to make sure it is going to work for us the way we need it,” Mahl said. “I think there is the hope that this goes further into the patrol program because sergeants are less in number than patrol officers. The patrol officers are the ones that absolutely have to have this tool in their hand.”

He said when a Taser is deployed, it can incapacitate a person for at least five seconds, which is enough time for officers to move in for an arrest.

Montgomery County police and Fairfax County police have been using stun guns for years. In both counties, it is up to the officer if they want to go through the training and be armed with a Taser.

In Montgomery County, the training is 50 hours and 379 officers have them. In Fairfax County, 467 officers have Tasers on a patrol force of 925 officers.

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