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A Recipe for Disaster: School Cops Are Being Armed with 50,000-Volt Tasers

Tasers aren't 'nonlethal'; they've killed hundreds. With younger people being especially vulnerable to the Taser's shock, the risks could be very deadly.

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"Something sticks in you, and it's like a wire," Debnam described to local ABC affiliate WTVD. "When I was on the ground crying and shaking, he asked me, 'Was that enough? Are you calmed down now?' and he did it again."

In March, the Los Angeles Times reported that "the number of law enforcement agencies that have given Tasers to officers who work on school campuses has grown to well over 4,000," according to Steve Tuttle, vice president of communications at Taser International. That's up from 1,700 in 2005.

In an e-mail to AlterNet last week, Tuttle said that this estimate remains accurate, noting that it "includes municipal law enforcement agencies that have school resource officers (SROs) for elementary and high schools, as well campus police for colleges and universities." But Tuttle took issue with the notion that Tasers are used "for unruly students' as the L.A. Times article inferred."

"They are used to protect students and faculties," he said, as well as police officers hired to patrol school grounds.

Just weeks into the 2009-2010 school year, at least one report has surfaced of a student being tased on school grounds. In Topeka, Kan., a teenager at Capital City School was sent to the hospital after being tased, reportedly after "attacking" a school police officer while a Topeka police officer handcuffed him. (According to local media, the student "was being suspended for violating school rules.")

'Our Premier Law Enforcement Electronic Control Device'

Last fall, police officers patrolling Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Fla., joined the ranks of school security officers who carry Tasers. The decision followed years of controversy over the measure, which was announced in 2005.

That January, local press reports said the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office had signed a $1.8 million contract with Taser International to buy 1,800 Taser guns for city police officers over the next two years, some of which would be used by school security officers. The timing was at least partly motivated by Superbowl XXXIX, which was held at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium that February.

According to the Associated Press, "some school officials [were] 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."

But plans to deploy the Tasers were put on hold shortly after. In late February 2005, Sheriff John Rutherford imposed a blanket moratorium on Taser use by the JSO after it came under fire for the repeated tasing of a 13-year-old, 65-pound girl who was in handcuffs inside a patrol car.

Llahsmin Lynn Kallead had reportedly kicked the inside of the police car when she was shocked multiple times by her arresting officer.

"I saw her jump from one side of the police car to the other" from the shock, her mother, Rosie Vaughan, told reporters. "She shook."

It was surely a PR nightmare for Rutherford, who had gone to great lengths to prove the safety and usefulness of the devices, holding town hall meetings across the county on the topic. The stocky 52-year-old had even volunteered to be tased, on camera, to demonstrate. ("Rutherford took a hit in the back and fell to the floor as other officers held his arms," according to Jacksonville's News 4. "He bounced back up almost immediately, saying, 'There you have it.' ")

In a conversation with AlterNet, the sheriff's office preferred to refer to Tasers by the name the company gives them: "electronic control devices" or ECDs. A JSO employee told AlterNet, "we were, obviously, very thorough and deliberative in making sure that they fit in our use-of-force matrices."