Duval school officers will be armed with Tasers

Published: Saturday, January 8, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 7, 2005 at 10:44 p.m.
JACKSONVILLE - Police officers working in Duval County middle and high schools will soon carry Taser guns, joining the ranks of several other counties where the stun guns are issued to school resource officers.
Some school officials are surprised by the action, saying they were never told by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office that it planned to issue stun guns to the officers assigned to most middle and high schools.
The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office has signed a $1.8 million contract with Taser International to buy 1,800 Tasers over the next two years.
Two of the School Board's seven members, Brenda Priestly Jackson and Kris Barnes, said they already have concerns with police presence in schools and are opposed to equipping the officers with Tasers.
"Can't a couple of adults take down a child?" Barnes said.
Some parents say the weapons are excessive and could easily be misused, especially with children who have attention-deficit or hyperactivity disorder.
Reta Russell-Houghton, president of the Duval County PTA/PSA, representing 154 schools and 4,500 members, said Tasers in schools are inappropriate because children react differently from adults.
"What officers might perceive as a life-threatening situation at school might not be," she said.
State Sen. Tony Hill, D-Jacksonville, has introduced a bill in the Legislature to ban Tasers in all Florida schools. He said the bill is waiting to be assigned to a committee.
School Superintendent John Fryer declined to comment, saying the topic was premature. He plans to meet with Sheriff John Rutherford soon to talk about Tasers.
A policy being drafted by the Sheriff's Office said the weapons should not be used on pregnant women or suspects in control of a motor vehicle, in danger of falling from an elevated location or near a pool, lake or flammable liquid or fumes.
They also should not be used on animals. The proposed policy does not mention any limitation on students.
Duval County is following Clay, Nassau, St. Johns, Miami-Dade and other counties in equipping resource officers with Tasers.
Since 2001, Clay County officers have used Tasers on three unarmed students, two 15-year-olds and an 18-year-old, essentially because they did not follow officers' orders. They were not injured.
Clay County Superintendent David Owens has said Tasers are a safe way to break up fights and avoid injuries.
Putnam County, which approved the weapons early last year, has used it on four students, a 12-year-old, a 14-year-old and two 16-year-olds.
In October, Miami-Dade County resource officers used a Taser on a 6-year-old, who was wielding a shard of glass.
Amnesty International, in a report issued in November, said at least 70 people have died in the United States and Canada in the past three years after being struck by the M26 and X26 Tasers.
Medical examiners have often attributed deaths to other factors, including drugs. Some medical experts think Tasers may have contributed to a risk of heart failure in cases where people are agitated or have other health problems. Just Thursday, the Broward County medical examiner ruled that a man who died after being zapped with a Taser gun by police had succumbed to a cocaine overdose, not the jolt.
Taser International has defended its product and denied allegations in the Amnesty International report.

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