Stun guns are the new tool for Atlantic County sheriff’s officers faced with having to control potentially violent situations, Sheriff Frank X. Balles announced.
“Especially here in the (Atlantic County Superior Court building in Mays Landing), if we are faced with a deadly force situation, we don’t want to be firing in a closed building,” said Balles, who announced that his officers are now trained to use the department’s eight Tasers.
Purchasing the devices has been a plan for many years, but with strict guidelines imposed by the state attorney general and the county Prosecutor’s Office, they were only useful in a few instances.
"The addition of the TASER X2 (a model launched in 2011) will be an important and viable option to help control encounters that could escalate into violent and harmful situations as well as provide increased accountability,” Balles said.
According to marketing information for TASER, the X2 has improved safety features and information-logging capabilities, as well as an automatic shut-off ability.
Balles said the tool is useful as a deterrent without ever having to make contact with a person, using an arc feature. This allows the device to be turned on and a visible arc to be used as constructive authority.
“Sometimes, that scares a person more,” he said.
The tool is also useful for accountability in the force. A camera is attached to the handle that will record video and audio with a date and time.
If the TASER ever needs to be fired at someone, the way it works is by probes sticking into the person’s body and delivering an electric charge for seven seconds, Balles said. “This makes the body go limp and gives the officer an opportunity to take the person into custody. After a few seconds, the person is back to normal without any bodily injury.”
“No officer ever wants to have to fire their firearm at another human being,” Balles said.
A recent officer-involved shooting raised questions in the Pleasantville community about why their police force was not armed with TASERS.
A grand jury said in September that the officers were justified in the shooting of 19-year-old Alexis Yamil Perez last April.
At the time, Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office spokeswoman Haleigh Walz said the county had not adopted a rule for the use of stun guns, though many departments had purchased them.
Balles explained the stun guns are expensive — both to buy and train with —and require a letter to the Prosecutor’s Office stating the device is non-flammable. It can only be operated by trained and certified officers. Officers who use the devices have to be trained by the Prosecutor’s Office.
Egg Harbor Township police have purchased five TASER X2s and are scheduled for training at the start of February, according to police operations Capt. Dave Druding.
“I’ve been in stiuations in the past where, based on the review of the case, you could say ‘Wow, if we had a TASER, maybe our officers wouldn’t have gotten hurt,’” Druding said.
Officer safety was one of the biggest factors for the department to consider the devices, he said.
When asked if the Sheriff’s Office could lend a hand in a situation to the municipal police departments that don’t have stun guns, Balles said that if it is possible, then yes.
“Sometimes, the situations don’t last long enough to have another agency respond to a call to assist,” Balles said. “It’s not like asking for a drug dog or a patrol dog. But if it’s a long-standing situation, then they can get someone there.”
“We are happy to be first in the county to put these on the street,” Balles said.