Recently, the Mercyhurst Police force implemented training for its officers to carry tasers on campus. This change came from an 18-month process of discussions from various groups at Mercyhurst about how to begin to train officers and create protocol for the use of the less than lethal weapon.
Chief of Police DJ Fuhrmann stated that the university’s move toward taser usage falls in line with the other law enforcement in the City of Erie, Pennsylvania State and most other local universities.
“We are always reviewing our policies and trends in policing and one of the trends now is carrying tasers. After much discussion with the university officials we feel that it really would be a benefit for the school,” Fuhrmann said.
The officers on campus currently carry pepper spray, a baton and a gun, but had no intermediary between the less than lethal and lethal weapons.
“What we really needed at the university was an intermediate level of weapon, but more than a less-than lethal kind of presentation for our officers.” John Patterson, Director of Protective Services, said. “It just makes sense. Tasers are a fantastic way of bridging that gap.”
Laura Zirkle, vice president of Student Life, stated that in addition to this fact, current events also had an effect on the reasoning behind this recent change.
“There had been a sad incident at another university where a student had been shot due to the police not having any other option for handling his violent actions,” Zirkle said. “Our police force is always looking for the best practices to keep the community as safe as possible.”
Because of the tragedy, Zirkle and other staff began discussing less lethal options for the officers.
Zirkle expressed pride in the implementation of this policy, seeing it as a safer option for both officers and students.
“This is just another example of us looking for other methods to keep students in this community safe. The tasers are a much less forceful method than guns,” Zirkle said.
Fuhrmann is confident that the tasers will be an asset to the Mercyhurst Police, but hopes that they never have to be used.
“Hopefully we never have to use them, but if one of my officers is in a situation where somebody is resisting and cannot be controlled, they now have the option to use the taser when it is appropriate,” Fuhrmann said.
Zirkle and the MU police are working to calm any worries from students or staff who may fear that the tasers could be misused.
“I think the students will be pleased to know that we are taking these precautions to keep them safe,” Zirkle said. “Before any taser was issued, we did extensive training so that our officers were comfortable and qualified to use them.”
Patterson was responsible for training and certifying the Mercyhurst officers with the most up-to-date model of taser, an X26-P. They participated in a four hour class to familiarize themselves with the weapon, its nomenclature, how the pieces work and what they are expected to do before and after a shift on duty.
The way the taser operates is that the hand-held cartridge deploys two electrically charged probes with sharpened ends attached to 21 foot wires. The probes shoot at a high and low range with the intent to distribute the electric charge between the upper and lower body.
“The goal of the taser is total muscle incapacitation, not to invoke a pain response,” Patterson said. “It is used to get the assailant to stop. The taser is a useful tool, but it is only a tool.”
Fuhrmann stated that the protocol for taser use only allows officers to use them in “self defense, defense of others, to affect an arrest, prevent an escape or to control a subject.” The protocol continues that “the use of this type of force is considered significant and is not to be employed lightly.”
Officers are not permitted to threaten the subject with the usage and must give a verbal warning before firing the weapon. After the taser has been deployed, the officers must follow all procedures including medical care to the subject and documentation of the event. All facts are recorded electronically through systems in the tasers as well for other officers to see.
Students such as Mercyhurst Student Government President, Abby Staub have shown appreciation for this new method, seeing positive effects on campus coming from it.
“As a student, I believe this will have a positive impact on campus safety, as this will provide another level of security for students on campus,” Staub said.