COVINGTON - Deputies with the Newton County Sheriff's Office just got more fire power, but it's designed to ensure safety rather than harm.
NCSO spokesman Lt. Mark Mitchell said with the recent addition of 20 Taser guns issued to road deputies, there are now 50 officers armed with the less-lethal weapons.
NCSO spokesman Lt. Mark Mitchell said the Tasers help prevent officer and suspect injuries.
"We've had officers injured in altercations with subjects under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or just those who have tried to hurt officers. The Taser is a tool we can use to effectively incapacitate somebody, so we can effect an arrest without injury to both deputy and suspect."
He said it was a real step up from former methods.
"When we have a combative subject, if we use a chemical spray or even a baton, you still have to put hands on the subject to get him under control," Mitchell explained. "With the Taser, the officer does not have to go hands on. He issues the command to advise the subject he's going to be Tasered. If they comply, great. If not, the officer can deploy the Taser."
Mitchell recalled a recent incident when the use of a Taser gun prevented a would-be suicide.
"The individual had threatened to take her own life. The deputy used the Taser to stop that and the individual was taken into custody," he said.
Each deputy who has been issued a Taser was required to be trained and certified, as well as submit to being Tasered.
"We require for them to undergo being Tasered so they can testify to how it feels. I hook them up and they get Tasered just like anybody else," said Deputy Paul Gunter, who is the NCSO training instructor.
He explained that the Taser used by the NCSO is a "neuromuscular incapacitation device," and compared the Taser's impact on the body to a telephone being unplugged for 5 seconds.
"The phone hasn't been damaged. Except for the time it was unplugged, the phone didn't work," he said. "Basically, that's what happens when the Taser interrupts the signal from your brain to your muscles. It confuses the brain and nothing works."
He said all involuntary functions such as heartbeat and breathing continue without interruption.
He said the pain that is associated with the Taser is similar to "shadow pain" which affects amputees who say they feel pain from where the limb should be.
"When the brain function is interrupted, it tries to develop a pain sensation so it can tell the body that it knows it's still there," he said. "The pain is in the bottom of your spine. It's a pretty severe pain, but it only lasts the 5 seconds while the cycle takes place. There are no residual effects, maybe just a little soreness."
Gunter said the Taser puts out a peak voltage of 1,200, but the amp level is .004, less amps than are generated from a string of series Christmas lights. However, he is quick to say being Tasered is not something you'd want to have happen to you.
"Nobody is going to get electrocuted and there's no burning sensation," he said. "But it does hurt."
The Taser makes contact by shooting two darts into the body, and Gunter said there is very little bleeding from those darts and the wound heals quickly.
Gunter said he knew of four incidents this year when Tasers made a big difference.
"In the past, they would have been shooting incidents. Instead, Tasers were deployed and in all four situations nobody was injured and the person was taken into custody," he said.
He said sometimes the threat of being Tasered has made a difference.
"Sometimes we can say, 'Taser, Taser,' and they do what you tell them," he said. "Sometimes people make us deploy them. We've had cases, though, when that light came on and the little red dot lit up their body and they decided it was time to listen."