GREENFIELD — Greenfield police officers carry Tasers that are 13 years old, using technology that can no longer be updated or repaired when broken.
Chief Jeff Rasche recently told city officials he needs nearly $100,000 to replace the department’s 45 stun guns, which are the oldest in use among county police agencies.
Rasche said about two-thirds of the department’s 44 Tasers, weapons carried by every officer, date back to the early 2000s — the first generation the manufacturer made. They still work properly, and the department has several spares, but officers can no longer buy replacement parts or upgrade device software that records usage of the weapon, he said.
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The department carries the most outdated Tasers in the county. The Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, New Palestine Police Department and Shirley Police Department bought new Tasers for their full-time officers three years ago. Fortville and Cumberland’s departments bought new ones five years ago, department officials said.
Rasche fast-tracked an effort to overhaul the department’s use-of-force program when an Indianapolis man died after being shot with a Taser by a Greenfield officer last month. While coroners have not ruled on the man’s cause of death or suggested it was caused by the 50,000-volt shock, an internal review left Rasche convinced the department’s policies didn’t require enough training and left officers and the public at risk.
Days after Douglas Wiggington’s death on May 12, department leaders put every officer through Taser training. Since then, they have been reviewing their Taser-related policies and taking inventory of the equipment, said Rasche, who replaced former Chief John Jester early this year following Jester’s retirement.
Since local law enforcement officers begin using Tasers in 2004, manufacturer Axon has released several updates. The newest weapons feature several important upgrades that will keep officers and the public safer, Rasche said.
For example, they can be discharged more than once without reloading. The older devices can be shot only once before officers have to stop and load a new cartridge, which can put an officer at risk if they miss their target or a suspect tears loose from the barb-like probes.
A backup shot could mean the difference between subduing an unruly subject quickly and having to fight them by hand, said Greenfield police Cpl. Justin Jackson, a seven-year member of the force.
The department’s Taser use is rare — the 42 officers fired the weapons a combined seven times in all of 2016, records show. Still, it’s an important tool to help officers take control of a suspect from a safe distance, Jackson said.
Last year, Jackson responded to a call about a domestic dispute and shot his Taser at a man who refused to cooperate, he said. But when the probes Jackson fired failed to make a strong connection, the suspect ended up tearing free from the wires that connect the barbs to the device, he said.
Jackson ended up wrestling the man, putting them both at risk of injury, he said. That likely could have been avoided with the new version of Tasers, Jackson said.
“We won’t have to worry about reloading when we’re chasing them down. All you have to do is pull the trigger again,” he said.
New laser technology helps to improve officers’ aim as well, Jackson said. The latest devices shine a pair of laser points to indicate where each probe will strike the suspect.
In addition, officers can activate a loud sparking noise to signal the weapon is about to be fired, which experts hope will encourage people who are fighting police to surrender to avoid getting shocked.
Forty-five new Tasers, one for each of the department’s 42 officers plus a few backups, will cost about $92,000, money the department doesn’t have on hand.
That estimate includes the weapons and an unlimited number of cartridges — which the department must purchase individually now — for the next five years of on-duty use and training.
The department’s new Taser policies require Greenfield officers to re-certify annually, a standard recommended by the manufacturer to prevent the risk of misuse and keep officers sharp with the weapon.
Rasche asked city officials to consider using Local Option Income Tax funds — reserved for public safety expenses — to cover the cost. The request must be approved by the Greenfield City Council before the equipment can be ordered.
Purchasing Tasers for every officer will ensure they’re all using the same equipment, which will make training more efficient, Jackson said. Each generation of Taser operates slightly differently, so instructors have been teaching techniques on multiple devices.
Rasche said the recent changes to the department’s policies don’t indicate officers did something wrong in the incident May 12, which remains under investigation. Wiggington suffered a medical issue immediately after being shot with the Taser during a scuffle with police, and coroners are waiting on toxicology reports to rule on his cause of death.
Even if a Taser had no role in the man’s death, officers should undergo training and have access to the latest equipment, Rasche said.
Mayor Chuck Fewell, a former state trooper, said the expense — about $432 per Taser — is costly but necessary. He hopes the city council will agree to move forward when members take up the issue in coming weeks.
“There’s no value you can place on training and equipping officers with the best,” he said.
Council president Gary McDaniel said he hasn’t yet talked with Rasche about the department’s needs, but if the police chief thinks new equipment is needed, McDaniel will likely support the request, he said.
Rasche said he expects to place an order early next month if he gets approval. Before officers can begin using the devices, they’ll have to undergo additional training to master the weapon’s new features.
The financial and time investment — training takes about six hours per officer — is worth it, Rasche said.
“It’s our responsibility to make sure our officers are using the latest, up-to-date piece of equipment,” he said.
The Greenfield Police Department plans to purchase 45 new Tasers for the department’s police officers.
The new devices come with features the older version doesn’t offer, including:
- Backup shot: Officers will no loner have to manually reload the Taser if they miss on their first attempt to subdue a suspect.
- Laser focus: The new technology comes equipped with two lasers, showing officers exactly where the top and bottom probes will hit a suspect.
- Warning signal: The latest Tasers allow officers to activate a loud buzzing before shooting the weapon, which experts hope is one more step to deter a person from resisting.
Source: Axon (formerly Taser International)
An Indianapolis man’s death after being shot with a Taser has prompted the Greenfield Police Department to overhaul its stun-gun policies.
- May 12: Douglas Wiggington suffers a medical issue after being shot by a Taser during a scuffle with police. He dies later that night at an area hospital.
- May 13: All Greenfield police officers are ordered to undergo Taser re-certification training, which former department policies did not require.
- June 13: Police Chief Jeff Rasche requests nearly $100,000 for new Tasers, noting the department’s equipment is outdated.
Police officers across Hancock County carry Tasers to help subdue unruly suspects. Every few years, a new generation of the device is released. Here’s a look at the last time area departments upgraded their Taser equipment.
New Palestine Police Department: 2014
Hancock County Sheriff’s Department: 2014
Shirley Police Department: 2014
McCordsville Police Department: 2013
Fortville Police Department: 2012
Cumberland Police Department: 2012
Greenfield Police Department: 2004