Tasers May Be Coming to Fort Worth Schools

Apr. 13--FORT WORTH -- Police officers who patrol the halls of Fort Worth schools could soon be armed with Tasers, the weapon designed to temporarily immobilize a suspect by delivering a 50,000-volt shock.

One trustee questioned whether the devices are safe to use on children.

"This really concerns me," Trustee Juan Rangel said. "I'm not sure there have been enough studies and data showing that these things are safe enough to merit having them in a school environment."

Lt. Dean Sullivan, a police spokesman, said the plan is just another phase in the department's ongoing efforts to equip all uniformed officers with Tasers.

"It is our department's intention to equip every one of our police officers with the most efficient and up-to-date equipment available," Sullivan said. "That would include school officers."

Fifty-four police officers are stationed in district middle and high schools.

Tasers are billed as an alternative to deadly force, but critics question whether officers use them too often and whether they can be deadly when used on people under the influence of drugs.

A discussion on Tasers was on the agenda for Tuesday night's school board meeting, but Cecelia Speer, assistant superintendent of safety, security and operations, told trustees that district administrators have little say in the matter.

The district has an agreement with the city to put police officers in schools with all their standard-issue equipment, including guns, she said.

"The police don't come into the school district and tell us what tools we need to teach school," Speer said. "To me, that's like what we would be doing if we told them not to bring certain equipment."

Several school officers already carry Tasers because they were issued the weapons before transferring to a school position, she said. The only time a Taser has been used on school grounds was last year at Trimble Tech High School, where two students were shocked while officers tried to break up a fight.

The officers who used the Tasers were patrol officers responding to the fight, not a school officer, she said.

Larry Shaw, executive director of the United Educators Association, said that in an emergency, he would rather a police officer pull a Taser inside a school than a gun.

"But Lord, I would hate to think of a student in the Fort Worth school district being Tasered," he said.

A spokesman for Phoenix-based Taser International said a 2004 survey found that about 32 percent of the 5,550 law enforcement agencies that used Tasers gave them to school resource officers.

Today, he said, 8,750 agencies use Tasers.

Two resource officers in the Birdville school district carry Tasers, but a district spokesman said they have never used them.

Sullivan said that the department has already given Tasers to most patrol officers and that neighborhood police officers and school officers are scheduled to receive them next. Officers in the high schools would likely get them before those in middle schools.

Fort Worth police Capt. Gianni Ghilespi of the School Initiative/Youth Division declined to speculate on whether officers would receive their Tasers this school year or next. He said the district's wishes will be considered.

"Our steadfast belief is that when this device is deployed, it actually saves us from having to use other true force methods such as kicks and strikes," he said. "You usually do not recover nearly as quickly from a fist."

However, he said, the department is considering drafting a more stringent policy for when and how Tasers should be used in schools. That policy could include guidelines that take into account the suspect's age and size.

Sullivan said department regulations say officers usually should not use Tasers on anyone younger than 11 or older than 70.

Rangel questioned how officers could gauge a student's weight in the heat of the moment and said he worried that some students may try to test the officers.

[Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth) (KRT) -- 04/14/06]