Prepared to shock
• Tasers offer officers a less dangerous option to subdue violent suspects than handguns or batons
By Ben Roberts
The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office (JCSO) will soon have a new weapon in their fight against crime, one would-be criminals will most likely find quite "shocking."
Sheriff Gary Hutchins says his department recently purchased five hand-held tasers and he expects deputies to begin carrying them within the next month.
"This is a deterrent," he said. "We're hoping when people know our officers are carrying these tasers they'll think twice about not complying with their instructions."
Investigators, deputies and jailers recently attended a four-hour post-certified course in the proper use of the taser, led by Bulloch County Sheriff's Office Investigators Todd Mashburn and Jim Riggs.
In a phone interview on Tuesday, Inv. Mashburn explained that the Taser Model X26, the kind to be carried by the JCSO, delivers a high voltage shock of 50,000 volts at a low amperage of .004 amps. Mashburn said it is the low amperage that makes the taser a safe but effective weapon.
"The X26 delivers just 0.36 joules per pulse," he explained. "An automatic defibrillator used by medical personnel on cardiac arrest patients typically delivers anywhere from 150 to 400 joules per pulse."
Mashburn admits those numbers may not mean much to the average person on the street, but, he says, if they're ever in a situation where an officer uses a taser on them, they'll start to understand really quick.
"It's rough if you get hit with it," Mashburn says, admitting he's been shocked with the taser himself, a policy most departments require before their officers can carry the weapons.
Hutchins required the same of his deputies as part of their course.
"It stings," says JCSO Sgt. Leroy Morgan, "slows all your motor skills down."
Sgt. John Hills said the shock "locks you down," disabling your ability to struggle.
"You can feel it going through your muscles," he said; "but there's no pain after that, once it stops."
Hills pointed out that the effects of pepper spray can last for two hours after being used on someone and that using a baton to subdue someone usually results in a trip to the emergency room for that person.
Mashburn said safety - for both the officer and the suspect - is the driving force behind departments arming their officers with tasers.
"If I hit you with a baton, especially in the knee, elbow or a joint, the chances of injury are pretty great," Mashburn said. "This results in two sting marks - like bee stings - versus you limping around with a bad bruise."
Mashburn says Bulloch County began using tasers in 2003 and now all deputies and investigators carry them and jailers have access to them as well.
The X26 models have a 21-foot range, Mashburn explained, firing two small probes that attach to a suspect's skin or clothing when fired. With a pull of the trigger, the taser delivers a five-second shock through wires connected to the handset. That shock immediately ends after the five seconds, but an officer can continue to shock a person with five-second bursts with each pull of the trigger.
Mashburn calls these five seconds an officer's "window of opportunity" to bring a suspect into compliance or to detain him. He said another officer can safely grab a suspect while he is being shocked without getting shocked himself, since the electrical current moves in a circle from one of the taser's probes to the other.
Mashburn said an officer can override the five second burst by holding down the trigger, but that is something he neither recommends nor teaches in his courses.
"It becomes excessive force if you've got the subject down and under control," he said.
He added that having the taser used on officers before they can carry the weapon cuts down on its misuse as well.
Hutchins said any misuse by his employees would not be tolerated. His officers have been trained on the taser's proper use and they would be expected to strictly follow that training.
"They know when to use it and when not to," he said. "We'll have a policy and we'll adhere to that policy."
Hutchins said he's had three officers injured over the last year in scuffles with combative subjects.
Those scuffles result in increased medical costs to officers and suspects, as well as having officers come off of duty for a time, all of which cost the taxpayers of Jefferson County more, he says.
"If somebody gets out of hand and doesn't want to listen, these tasers can stop it within five seconds rather than it leading to two or three minutes of fighting," Hutchins said. "When it escalates like that, it usually ends up costing the county on both parties."
Mashburn said he believes once word spreads that officers are carrying the tasers, that alone will serve as a good deterrent.
"It gets its respect," he said; "it'll demand it."
Mashburn should know since he says he has used the device on more than one occasion.
"Tasers are effective tools. They allow an officer to go in, hands off, to bring a subject down. They level the playing field to keep officers safe," he said.
"This is for those criminals who we can't stop or reason with," Hutchins said, noting that if someone wants to complain about the device being a cruel form of punishment, he'll remind them it was used on his officers first.
When asked if he was shocked with the taser as well, Hutchins was quick to point out, "Well now, I'm not toting one."
Local teams prepare for Relay events May 5 and 6
• Last year's event raised over $110,000 for American Cancer Society: This year's planners shooting for a similar goal
By Faye Ellison
Get out your cowboy hats and boots! This year the Jefferson County American Cancer Society Relay for Life will be centered around a Relay Rodeo theme.
This year's Relay for Life will be held May 5 beginning at 6 p.m. and ending May 6 at 2 p.m. at the walking track beside Wrens Middle School.
Renee Borum, one of the organizers for the event, said that many of the traditions from past relays will continue this year.
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"The survivor lap will be the kickoff," she said. "Then the luminaries will be lit at dark."
The baby stroller laps will begin at 7 p.m. and there will be entertainment throughout the day.
Last year, $110,000 was raised for the American Cancer Society with help from residents and workers in Jefferson County.
"This year we are shooting for around the same amount," Borum noted. "I will be pleased if we meet it or surpass it."
Relay teams are currently raising money for the cancer-fighing and awareness raising event, with several teams offering food, entertainment or raffles as a way to make money to help find a cure for cancer.
"The teams are wonderful," Borum said. "They really take care of getting ready for the Relay for Life."
Again this year there is a raffle for a 52" television from Regions Bank's Relay team, which was donated by Davis-McGraw, and a golf cart, also with tickets available from a Regions Bank team member. Anyone wanting tickets can contact a team member.
The luminaries are $5. Community members can honor or remember a loved one by putting their name on a luminary bag. The bags will line the track. As night falls, a candle in each bag will be lit as participants honor those whose names are represented. The gold luminary bag is $25.
One new event this year will be the lighting of "Torches of Hope." For a contribution of $50 a tiki torch will be placed on the track to light during the luminary ceremony. The torch will have a plate attached inscribed with the Relay for Life logo and the name of the person being honored or remembered.
After the Relay, the torch plate will be available to take home. Forms for the Torch of Hope must be received by April 13 to allow time for engraving.
For more information on the luminaries or tiki torches, contact a team member or Chris Anderson at (706) 547-3355 or 547-6745.
Other ways to get a head start on your Relay spirit are the Relay for Life magnets that cost $5, which can be purchased from a Wrens United Methodist Church Relay for Life team member.
Teams this year include Matthews Community, the Pacers, Wrens United Methodist Church, Firstate Bank, Disciples for Life, Schoolhouse Rockers, Jefferson Energy, Regions Bank, Carver Elementary, CJ's Animals, The PAC, Wrens Middle School, Jefferson Hospital, Crystal Garrer Team of Hope, Heritage of Old Capitol and Glit/Microtron.