Royal Cayman Islands Police Service officer Gabe Rabess might have been said to be taking one for the team on Friday.
To demonstrate how new Taser electric shock weapons – being put on the street as of today by the local police service – are used, Mr. Rabess volunteered in a demonstration held for the press where he acted as a criminal suspect armed with a knife and approached another officer who was armed with a Taser.
After a series of voice commands, which he ignored as part of the demonstration exercise, Officer Rabess was shot in the back with a 50,000 volt charge from the weapon.
“The only way I can really describe it is experiencing a cramp, imagine that times 1,000 – over your whole body,” Mr. Rabess said, he added that he’s been “Tased” once before Friday’s demonstration but wasn’t keen to do it again.
Veteran firearms instructor Ian Brellisford said the Taser weapons do pack a punch. They can cause serious damage if a subject is struck by one of the weapon’s electric charge capsules in the eye or anywhere about the head. However, he said the weapon, designed to disarm threatening individuals in close quarters, gives local police a proper “less-lethal” option when the situation warrants.
“Taser is designed to give instant incapacitation, and afterward, instant relief,” Mr. Brellisford said.
The police service will begin deploying Taser electric shock weapons starting today [Monday] in both armed and unarmed units within the service, authorities announced Friday.
The police service purchased 36 of the weapons from United States-based Taser International in September after receiving close to $5 million in additional funding from the Cayman Islands government the previous October. The weapons, including mounted video cameras for each Taser weapon, cost about US$71,000.
The weapon, which is considered by American police forces and Taser International to be “less-than-lethal” in terms of the force it can administer, fires two wires charged with 50,000 volt shocks at targets – incapacitating them for a brief period.
Police forces in the US and Britain use Taser weapons typically in close-range encounters with criminal suspects where the use of a firearm would be considered excessive. They are also often used to subdue violent or mentally-ill individuals who might do harm to themselves and others.
“It is incumbent upon us to offer less-than-lethal options [to our officers],” Inspector Brellisford said. “All officers are routinely issued with baton, pepper spray, handcuffs, but there’s nothing … for want of a better word … the gap that allows for close-quarter dealing with individuals who are violent.
A total of 59 police officers from the Uniform Support Group [armed officers], as well as the police Operational Support Group and police officers at the Cayman Brac station have been trained in the use of the devices. Police Commissioner David Baines said they will be used as a specialist weapon, much like firearms, within the police service and that there is no current plan to arm all officers with Tasers.
“There’s no immediate plan for that and there’s no funding for that,” Mr. Baines said.
Each Taser weapon records every time it is fired into a computer system, which is monitored by police and the records for which are kept by the RCIPS Professional Standards Unit and the Cayman Islands Governor’s Office. Mr. Brellisford said each Taser use is recorded by cameras attached to the weapons to show how they were used in every situation. The computer records cannot be altered, he said.
Tasers in use
The United Kingdom first began arming specialist officers with Taser weapons in 2005 and in 2008, the UK Home Office announced an initiative to acquire 10,000 additional Taser “stun guns” to arm English and Welsh police officers.
Taser weapons have been widely used by law enforcement agencies in the US and Canada for decades.
The use of Tasers by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service was first proposed in 2007 by then-Police Commissioner Stuart Kernohan. However, that plan was never implemented due to various reasons, including changes in leadership at the police service.
There is an on-going international debate over whether Tasers are safe. The human rights group Amnesty International claims more than 300 people in the US and Canada have died after being shocked with the stun guns.
However, supporters of the guns have generally claimed that such deaths are caused not by the weapons themselves, but by health conditions that are exacerbated by electric shock such as congestive heart disease.
Amnesty International actually does not oppose the weapons’ use as long as they are deployed in limited number and operated by highly-trained specialist officers. The group does consider the stun guns “potentially lethal weapons”.
Several police departments in the US have claimed that use of Tasers has reduced the number of fatal shootings by officers who previously had to resort to firearms if a subject was too violent or too strong to control. Nearly all US police officers carry firearms in the course of their duties, unlike Cayman or the UK.
Taser International, the main manufacturer of the stun guns, based in Scottsdale, Arizona, claims the weapons are safe for law enforcement officers to use.