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Posted: 9/12/2004 4:46:50 PM EDT
Officers At Schools Now Tote Tasers

Kansas City Star via Associated Press

?It's our hope that by our officers carrying these, we reduce the risk of injury to the suspect or the officer.?

For six years, Officer Jeff Jewett has patrolled the halls of Olathe East High School like an old-fashioned beat cop.

He builds relationships with the school's 1,400 students, checks doors, monitors security cameras and sniffs for smokers in the bathrooms. He investigates thefts, issues citations and breaks up two or three fights a year.

Like his counterparts on the street, Jewett carries a gun, a baton and pepper spray to subdue aggressive suspects. And like his fellow patrol officers, Jewett this year added another weapon to his belt: an X26 Taser.

The weapons ? praised by officers but criticized by some when they were used on an unarmed 66-year-old Kansas City woman this summer ? now are showing up in the halls of Kansas City area schools.

All of the school-based and patrol officers in Olathe are being issued the weapons, which are capable of subduing a person by delivering a five-second, 50,000-volt shock through wires connected to prongs that can penetrate clothing.

The weapons also are being worn by some school-based Lee's Summit, North Kansas City and Lenexa police officers. So far, none of the officers has used the weapon.

?It's our hope that by our officers carrying these, we reduce the risk of injury to the suspect or the officer,? said Olathe Police Department spokesman Sgt. Greg O'Halloran.

Law enforcement officials praise the device for its ability to stop an aggressive suspect without lasting injury to either officer or suspect.

So far, the weapons apparently haven't led to any complaints from Olathe parents or students. Jewett said students noticed the Taser when he began wearing it this year, though most were curious rather than concerned. At least one student likes the idea of Jewett carrying the weapon.

?It makes me feel safer,? senior Keith Spreckels said. ?I'm not going to do anything where he has to use it on me. But I think it's cool that he has a Taser and can shoot someone 21 feet away.?

Evelyn Johnson of Olathe, whose daughter is a senior at Olathe East, said she was comfortable with the idea because of what she knows of Jewett.

?Officer Jewett doesn't know me, but I know him, and he appears to have a very good relationship with the kids at school,? Johnson said. ?That gives me a comfort level, based on the individual who would be carrying it.?

While no figures are available to say that Tasers are becoming a standard addition to the school cop's belt, Springfield police Maj. Steve Ijames said equipping officers with Tasers is a nationwide trend for police departments.

Ijames, a national expert on less-lethal force, stressed the safety of the weapon. He said officers who are trained to use Tasers are shot with the device themselves.

?I've been shot 30 times with it, and I don't like it at all,? he said. ?But if I thought I was at risk, I wouldn't use it.?

Ijames said he has a powerfully built son who's a senior in high school, and though he said he doubted that his son would be in a position of needing to be subdued by police, ?I'd rather see him Tasered than hit with a baton. I know the Taser would stop him and the chance of real injury is less.? Not all departments are equipping their school based officers with Tasers. In Shawnee, it's a matter of supply and demand, said Capt. Ron Copeland. The department has about 20 Tasers and two officers who have been trained as instructors. He said he did not think that school officers would be in the group of 20 that receives the Taser training and weapons.

None of the police officers in Overland Park carries Tasers, said Jim Weaver, the department spokesman. Capt. Scott Barton of the Leawood Police Department said that patrol officers carried Tasers but that the department did not have enough of the weapons for everyone to carry them.

?We felt it was most important to get them for officers on the street,? Barton said.

School resource officers in Lee's Summit were offered the option of carrying Tasers at the start of the school year after completing the necessary training, said Police Department Spokesman Mike Childs.

?Compared to other pieces of equipment, the decision to have them have the option of carrying the Taser was somewhat of a no-brainer,? Childs said. ?If an SRO is looking at the need to deploy pepper spray, the cross contamination factor is very high. It's going to get in other people's eyes, and that's not the best situation. When you get into a Taser situation, while the officer still has to follow the use-of-force continuum, it has pinpoint accuracy as to who it is being deployed against.?

Childs said Lee's Summit officers had not had to use weapons in school-based violent confrontations in the past, as they generally had been able to physically subdue their subjects.

?But the problem is that when you go hand on hand, the incidence of injury is going to go up,? he said.

Similarly, Sgt. LaVern Fields, supervisor of Olathe's school resource officer unit, said he could recall only one incident where an officer discharged pepper spray in a school. He said an officer would only use a Taser in the face of active physical resistance or aggression.

Jewett said he had never had to use his weapon in his school assignment, though he could think of two instances where a Taser might have been useful. In one, a student with several outstanding warrants from another municipality fled on foot after throwing a telephone at Jewett.

In the other, four students engaged in a fight that drew a crowd of several hundred onlookers. While Jewett subdued two of the individuals on the floor, and a third was captured in a bear hug by someone from the crowd, the fourth individual continued to kick one of the two Jewett had subdued. The crowd surrounding the fight meant that pepper spray wasn't an option, Jewett said. Pat All, Olathe's deputy superintendent, said the officers' primary role is preserving safety and security in schools.

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