Death investigators still haven't determined if a Taser contributed to the death of a Thetford man last month. But, with backlash brewing against the electronic control device across the state, communities are reevaluating its use.
More than 16,000 police agencies around the world use tasers as a "less-than-lethal" tool to suppress those who resist arrest or pose a potential threat to themselves and others. But in Randolph, a town of about five thousand in Vermont's Orange County, some residents say it's unnecessary.
The Randolph Police Department has three Tasers, and have only deployed the weapon once in the last 13 months. Some in the community hope to table the Taser though citing concern over its safety and potential for misuse.
"This is our home, is this the kind of thing we want here, is this the kind of thing that's appropriate for us," asked Randolph resident Gregg McCurdy, "I think it's appropriate for Chicago and Compton."
"It's not Chicago, but Randolph is a different world than it was 25 years ago," responded Randolph Police Chief James Krakowiecki.
The device is under renewed scrutiny in the Green Mountain State following the death of a 39-year-old Thetford resident. Macadam Mason died shortly after state police tased him while he allegedly resisted arrest. His doctor says a seizure the day before may have limited his ability to follow police orders.
Law enforcement officials say it's too early to pass judgment based on an incident still under review. They add that Tasers reduce the chance of injury for both suspects and police. "It's safer all-around in my opinion," said Krakowiecki.
In a May 2011 report, the National Institute of Justice found that Taser-use could reduce the chances of injury by 65 - 70 percent. A Wake Forest study found that 99.7 percent of people shocked by a conducted energy device suffered no - or only minor - injuries.
Medical examiners across the country have only found Tasers to be a "contributing factor" in custody deaths a handful of times.
Taser critics say half of research on the device is paid for by the manufacturers. An American Heart Association report released earlier this year did find a link between Taser-use and victim deaths.
Randolph resident Forrest MacGregor argues the device is unpredictably deadly and prone to misuse. He also worries of increased risk when deployed against children, the elderly, those with mental issues or under the influence of drugs.
"We haven't had any fatalities of the citizenry and we haven't had any fatalities of the police department," he said, "no shots fired, what are we preparing for?"
The select board will take more time before preparing its final decision on the device, expected by late-August.
Montpelier reviewed tasers last year but voted against allowing police to have them. Some Vermonters are pushing a petition to get state police to stop using them as the review into Macadam Mason's death continues.
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