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Jeffery Kurz

Stunning demo of a risky tool

I don’t know about you, but that photo on Page One the other day showing a Meriden police officer getting hit by a Taser stun gun gave me the heebie-jeebies.

I don’t have a bucket list. If I had a bucket list the only item on it would be a reminder not to have a bucket list. But now I think I could add another item, a reminder to never, under any circumstances, put myself in a position to get Tased.

I’m not sure if that’s the right way of putting it. Taser is a brand name, which means we capitalize it in stories, as in “use of a Taser.” But use of the term is also now so generally familiar as to become grammatically defiant and used as a verb, as in “Don’t Tase me, bro!” in that 2007 video involving a University of Florida student.

You have got to hand it to the intrepid Meriden police officer, Donna Zurstadt, who allowed herself to be the target of a Taser during a City Council Public Safety Committee meeting on Tuesday. It was a demonstration to allow council members to see how a Taser works, why you might want to use it, and the after effects.

If you saw the photograph, no explanation of how extreme the experience was was necessary.

Here’s how Record-Journal reporter Dan Brechlin described the scenario:

“(Sgt. John) Mennone, one of only three master Taser instructors in the state, fired a Taser into Zurztadt’s back as she was held by two other members of the department. Zurstadt began falling backward before the members of the department lowered her, face first, toward the ground. The prongs, which caused minimal bleeding, were removed while Zurstadt remained on the ground. When asked how she felt, Zurstadt reponded that she felt ‘exhausted,’ which Mennone said is typical.”

A video of the demonstration is online, at myrecordjournal.com, and shows how serious Zurstadt’s experience was, and this was in a controlled setting.

It’s worth noting that there are those who remain concerned over the employment of Tasers. As far back as 2008, a representative of Amnesty International was telling me there was a “serious question” about what police consider Tasers useful for.

The 2013 annual report by the organization said 42 people across 20 states died after Taser use by police, bringing the number of deaths to 540 since 2001. The organization noted that most were not armed and did not appear to pose a serious threat when the Taser was used. The report also cites an American Heart Association report that concluded that Tasers can cause cardiac arrest and death.

So obviously there are risks involved, and those risks remain even when you allow that using a stun gun is preferable to using a firearm.

Which makes all the more important the review now underway involving city leaders and the police department. The more the public knows, the better, and that includes demonstrations like the one the other night.

jkurz@record-journal.com (203) 317-2213 Twitter: @JefferyKurz



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