LaFayette Police Department’s budgetary constraints kept it from being able to provide high-tech tools like a taser.
“We have needed this tool to keep us safe and to keep the public safe,” assistant director Benji Clift said. “The solution we came up with is to see if we could get people in the community to help us.”
In February Clift began approaching LaFayette businesses about donations. The Bank of LaFayette, Valley Auto Sales, Pigeon Mountain Trading Co., Teems and Teems Real Estate, Jackson Chevrolet, and Los Guerrero's Mexican Restaurant contributed to the fund.
Citizen donations were also given by Kenneth Loggins, Smokey Caldwell and Jim Patton and a few who wish to remain anonymous.
It took nearly five weeks, but the donated funds have provided six tasers (each costs $950) to the LaFayette Police Department.
The Walker County Sheriff’s Office donated 15 taser holsters, at a total cost of $900, so that each officer’s utility belt would be equipped.
Pat Cook, training officer with the sheriff’s office, and David Gilliland, Lookout Mountain Drug Task Force agent, were instructors for Taser X2-ECD (electronic control device) training on April 9.
Two separate suspects can be probe-tased from up to 25 feet away, allowing the officer a safe distance and the ability to repeat the stunning until they surrender.
Probe-tasing fires two small dart-like electrodes from the taser. The darts immobilizes a suspect on contact.
LaFayette Police Department adopted the same taser policy as the Walker County Sheriff’s Office, requiring each officer to be tased during the four-hour class.
A handful of officers were drive-tased, in which the handheld unit is applied to the body. That technique provides a burning-type sensation, as opposed to firing the probes, which completely incapacitates the neuromuscular system.
The sheriff’s office has had taser for 14 years, according to Cook.
The software to track and update the devices costs $250.
Each taser has 500 charges on a lithium battery, along with a smart card used as evidence that records numerous details about the weapon’s usage.
Lieutenants Randy Hicks and Skipper Dunn have been issued tasers.
The remaining three tasers are rotated between the same personnel to track maintenance and usage of the tasers.
Cpl. Billy Mullis, who serves as the student resource office at LaFayette High School, was issued the first taser.
“It is most prudent for him to have one, as he is more likely to have more than one person on him, and he has no (immediate) backup in the school,” Clift said.
“People just don’t appreciate that he is the chief of a town with 1,300 people in it,” he said, referring to the fact that the high school has that many people — students and faculty — on site.
“Every decision he makes is done autonomously. He represents us,” Clift said. “We put enough responsibility and have enough trust in him that he runs the day-to-day operations at the high school precinct.”
In March 2001, student resource officer David Mondy separated two students after racial slurs were exchanged by the teens. A fight broke out and a mob began to beat and kick the officer in the school’s common area.
Mondy sustained several bruises and injured his shoulder before coaches and faculty were able to control the situation.
Review of the video surveillance tape from the incident showed how quickly the officer was overtaken and how easily the students could have disarmed or killed the officer, according to Clift.
“A taser … would have gave him a fair chance,” Clift said.
Studies have shown that a physical confrontation significantly increases the possibility of injury for both the suspect and officer, according to Clift.
Utilizing a taser in a school altercation focuses on the suspect, compared to using pepper spray, which hits everyone in the immediate vicinity and can travel through the ventilation system, resulting in a much larger disruption, according to Clift.
Pepper spray also requires decontamination and treatment, while a jolt from a taser lasts five seconds.
A LaFayette officer has already drawn a taser as a deterrent in a situation.
On April 10, a domestic situation on South Chattanooga Street occurred with a man allegedly choking his wife in the front yard, according to Clift. Witnesses called 911 and the man grabbed his child and ran in the house. Three officers from LaFayette broke down the door and cleared the rooms, with tasers in hand.
The suspect was found in his bed pretending to sleep. He immediately put his hands up after being warned that he would be tased if he didn’t put his hands up and release the child, according to Clift.
Domestic violence situations are the leading case in which police officers are killed in the line of duty, according to Clift.