Tasers on patrol

The police use of Tasers, devices that deliver an electrical shock, during altercations has drawn some criticism as the consequence of a small number of deaths following use of a unit. The recent decision by police in Bar Harbor to acquire Tasers, then, is likely to attract its own share of detractors.

But one need look no further than this year’s spate of officer-involved shootings across the nation, sometimes involving people later found to be innocent or unarmed, to recognize that some tactic, short of deadly force, needs to be available for subduing difficult suspects.

Police officers today find themselves in almost impossible situations where decisions about how to protect the public, themselves or their fellow officers, need to be made in a split second. Firearms should not be the only option.

In small communities like Bar Harbor, where officers deal with disorderly subjects or, sadly, those under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the ability to stop an assailant without engaging in a wrestling match – or worse – is a welcome option. Often, just seeing the Taser in the officer’s hand can de-escalate a situation.

Southwest Harbor officers began carrying Tasers in 2011. Mount Desert police, who now work closely with Bar Harbor due to a chief-sharing agreement, obtained Tasers in 2012. The experience of those towns suggests that the units have been a valuable tool for officers on the front lines.

There is an average of two deaths per 1,000 uses of Tasers, according to studies. When police are required to use their guns, half of those incidents result in a death. In the other half, subjects suffer serious, often life-changing injuries.

The plea of “Don’t Tase me bro,” taken from a video of police confronting University of Florida students in 2007, sparked a major increase in the public’s awareness of Tasers.

Police and suspects have learned a lot since. It is appropriate Bar Harbor police now have this useful option.

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