Zap! UPD carries Tasers

A yellow, space-age-looking weapon that spits metal is the newest “tool” in campus police’s arsenal.

Representatives from the University Police Department revealed a Taser to the Associated Students Governmental Affairs Committee (GAC) at its first meeting on the semester Aug. 30—the day the Taser-toting officers hit the streets.

It was only a matter of time, Sgt. Eric Reichel said, as the Chico Police Department got on board with Tasers a year ago, with the Butte County Sheriff’s Department following six months later.

He said that since police nationwide started using the Tasers in 1999, fewer police officers and fewer innocent bystanders have been injured during confrontations.

“This is the best tool that’s come along for law enforcement in years,” Reichel said. Guns are lethal, batons break bones and pepper spray can bounce back on officers or just plain not work. The Taser “is a safe tool, it’s a clean tool, it’s an exact tool.”

The Taser can be fired when the officer is within 21 feet of a suspect. It releases two metal darts connected to wires that send .004 amps of power jolting through the target’s body. It can also be used in direct body contact, like the ‘70s generation of stun guns.

Reichel said that during training to use the Tasers, he had to be struck with one, and it stopped him cold.

“It affects the entire central nervous system. You’re completely incapacitated,” Reichel said, and yet it’s been proven safe to use even on people with Pacemakers or pregnant women. “It’s five seconds that they’ll never forget, but when it’s done, it’s over.”

Only officers who go through training by Reichel can carry the Tasers, but for now the department owns only one and has a second on loan.

UPD Chief Leslie Deniz said she carved the money for Reichel’s training, the $800 Taser and $18 cartridges out of her existing budget. “Whatever money I can try to save in my budget, we’ll go out and buy [more],” Deniz said, until all officers on patrol are carrying Tasers.

A few GAC members wore pained expressions during the most graphic parts of the presentation ("Oh, God,” gasped one student as Reichel explained how an officer could go back and forth, putting Taser darts into one suspect and shocking a second suspect directly with the device), but no one raised any objections.

Reichel had previously presented the plan to the university President’s Cabinet, it’s been reviewed by legal counsel and a policy has been written up.

Reichel said that just aiming the Tasers or setting off the electricity noises as a warning can help police. "It’s a great deterrent if you come in and put that [red laser dot] on someone’s chest."