Department underwent training last weekend

Christopher Maher, Alice Echo-News Journal

SAN DIEGO - The City of San Diego recently added a new tool to its police department that officials hope will increase the safety of the city's police officers while reducing injuries to those who resist arrest.

The city recently approved the purchase of a Taser X-26, a device that delivers an electrical charge to its target that temporarily disables muscle function.

San Diego Chief of Police Joe Olvera said the department has struggled with a high number of incidents in which suspects resist arrest, and he hopes the addition of the Taser to the department will curb those incidents.

"In the problems we encounter, a lot of these people resist arrest," Olvera said. "We have to wrestle them and take them down to the ground. This will eliminate that."

Olvera said having the Taser available will reduce his officers' dependence on other methods such as batons and pepper spray when controlling resisting suspects, reducing the potential of injury.

Last Saturday, the entire department underwent training with the Taser device, during which each officer was stunned with the weapon.

Sgt. Alan Gonzalez said he was impressed with the effectiveness of the Taser.

"Oh yeah, it hits in just one little second, and it's like 'boom' and you're down and out," Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said the Taser was especially important in a small department like the one in San Diego.

"This is just as good as having a partner, in my opinion," Gonzalez said. "With pepper spray, some people will just get upset. With a striking weapon you have to get into close proximity, versus a Taser."

Gonzalez added that sometimes just the knowledge that an officer is carrying a Taser can prevent a suspect from becoming confrontational.

"It's intimidating. A lot of people are familiar with it, Gonzalez said. "It's a stopper."

The Taser X-26 fires a two-pronged electrical cord that attaches to an individual and delivers a shock of 50,000 volts, temporarily disrupting the sensory and motor nervous systems, according to information provided by the department.

Olvera said the device does not cause permanent damage, because it employs a high number of volts while delivering a small number of amps, the electrical unit responsible for electrocution injuries and fatalities.

The Taser also provides accountability for the user, by recording the number of times it is fired and the duration of each charge. The gun also features a small camera which is activated when the gun is switched on.

Olvera, who last week was forced to fire his service pistol at a vehicle whose driver was allegedly attempting to run over him, said if the Taser had been available to him in that situation, it might have ended more peacefully.

"When he made a gesture like he was going to get something out from between the seats, I would have been justified using the Taser," Olvera said. "Had I done that, there was no way he was going to take off."

The suspect eventually led officers on a pursuit through the city, before abandoning his vehicle and escaping into a brush-covered area. Olvera said a Taser could have prevented that chase.

"No matter how big or tough they think they are, they are going to come down," Olvera said. "It's an effective tool."

Olvera said he ultimately hoped the Taser would provide an added level of protection for his officers while they carried out a dangerous job. "It's all about officer safety," Olvera said. "I want them to go home safe to their families."