The members of the Palo Alto Taser Task Force, beginning their journey toward a decision about whether stun guns should be a part of any police officer's equipment in the city, will get as close as they can Tuesday to test-driving the experience.
Part of Palo Alto police Chief Lynne Johnson's presentation will include videos of people being shot with a stun gun.
These videos were taken in real-life situations by other police agencies, Johnson said.
At last week's meeting, Johnson told the panel that the presentation would include a live Taser stunning of a volunteer from the police department.
Some members of the task force balked at the idea, not wanting to be directly responsible for a deliberate infliction of pain, so Johnson changed to the video format.
But she held fast to the idea that if the task force is going to educate itself as wholly as possible, the use of a stun gun is important to see.
"It is painful. It is an unpleasant experience, but hopefully, after our presentation, people will understand the myths and misconceptions and misunderstandings" about such weapons, she said.
Santa Clara County deputy district attorney Jay Boyarsky is on the task force and knows that even just watching a video will not be a welcome sight. He compared it to what juries must sometimes go through when hearing cases involving child molestation or rape. "It's scarring and unpleasant," he said, "but it is done in the service of the greater good."
It will not be an easy job. Taser use has generated many questions about how dangerous it is and under what circumstances it is used.
In November, the family of a Fresno man, who died after being stunned by San Jose police, filed a federal lawsuit claiming he was the victim of excessive and unreasonable force. The Santa Clara County coroner included the use of the Taser and pepper spray as a contributing factor in the man's death -- one of the first times that has happened in Santa Clara County.
More than a quarter-million Tasers are in use by police departments nationwide and justified as a control method far less lethal than a gun.
The San Jose police department was the first in the Bay Area to use the weapon. Other Taser-carrying departments now include Gilroy, Fremont, Morgan Hill, Belmont, San Bruno, San Mateo and San Mateo County SWAT teams.
The Taser inflicts five seconds of 50,000 volts of electricity, and its effect on the body is not completely predictable. The American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International have been lobbying hard for its use to be suspended.
The ACLU recently asked the San Jose City Council to produce a report on stun-gun incidents.
The Palo Alto Task Force includes a physician, a public defender, a mediator, a nurse, two members of the city's Human Relations Commission, a rabbi, a member of the NAACP, a city attorney, a Palo Alto police captain and the attorney hired by the department to act as its auditor.
IF YOU'RE INTERESTED
The task force will meet at 6 p.m. in the meeting room of the city's Art Center, 1313 Newell Road.
Contact S.L. Wykes at or (650) 688-7599.
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