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Cotati video spotlights law enforcement's growing Taser use

The encounter caught on video between Cotati residents and police officers put on view a controversial law enforcement tool: the Taser.

Often with 50,000 volts of electricity in a charge, the electromagnetic weapons cause muscles to seize up, providing officers with a key window to subdue a person.

National studies have shown stun guns cause fewer lasting injuries than batons or fists. But the effect is nonetheless shocking to observe and, in rare cases, people have died after being shot by a Taser.

Cotati Police Tasing Incident

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Some critics say the weapons are overused.

"The bottom line when you use a Taser: it has to be reasonable," said Richard Lichten, a retired sheriff's lieutenant from Southern California who provides expert testimony on police use of force, including Tasers. "You have to be able to articulate: Was an officer in danger? Was it a credible threat?"

Cotati police officials said they would not comment further on the encounter while both the criminal investigation into those accused of resisting arrest and the internal investigation into the officers' actions are ongoing.

But they provided a copy of the Police Department's Taser guidelines, a four-page document developed by Lexipol, an Orange County company that helps police departments create policies.

The officer must give a verbal warning, unless that would put them in jeopardy, and be able to articulate why other forms of force appeared ineffective, the policy states.

An authorized use includes when: "a subject who by words or action has demonstrated an intention to be violent or to physically resist and who reasonably appears to present the potential to harm officers, him/herself or others."

The May 10 encounter caught on tape depicts only part of the encounter and from the vantage point of James Wood, an Army reservist who filmed it with his cellphone.


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