Wichita Schools to Give School Resource Officers Tasers

Beat cops and detectives aren't the only members of the Wichita Police Department who are being issued Tasers.

School resource officers are, too.

By the end of the month, all 22 SROs in the Wichita schools -- seven in high schools and 15 in middle schools -- will carry the controversial device.

Galen Davis, director of safety services for the Wichita School District, said the district's SROs are experienced at working with children and therefore are sensitive to their surroundings when they have to deal with potentially violent situations.

"We have the confidence in them to use them appropriately," Davis said.

But the fact that the officers will be carrying Tasers in school hallways is unnerving, said several parents of middle school students.

Robin Crigler, whose daughter attends Stucky Middle School, called the thought of Tasers in schools "kinda scary."

"If that's what they need to protect themselves and protect the kids, that's fine," Crigler said. But, she added, "I wouldn't want to see a kid Tasered for a fight... unless things get out of hand."

As commissioned police officers, the SROs adhere to the same use-of-force policy that the rest of the officers do, Deputy Chief Tom Stolz said.

"We are not going to be using these to break up 12-year-old kids brawling," Stolz said.

Lt. Kevin Vaughn, firearms instructor and SWAT commander for the police department, said officers are being taught that someone refusing a verbal command is not sufficient grounds to use a Taser.

"There's got to be something else," Vaughn said. "You'd better have a strong reason for why you deploy," especially in a school.

A Taser fires two probes attached to coiled wires. When the tiny barbed tips of the probes attach to skin or clothing, they transmit a low-amp jolt for up to five seconds.

The charge jams the central nervous system and momentarily causes muscles to seize. If the person is standing, he will freeze and usually fall to the ground.

Tasers have drawn criticism because of dozens of cases across the country in which people -- often with a history of heart problems or drug use -- have died after being shocked.

Officers are instructed not to Taser the very old or the very young, but Stolz said there is no universal "thou shalt not" in the policy.

"The fact of the matter is, if a 94-year-old man is coming after an officer with a gun or a knife," then the officer might fire his Taser, Stolz said.

Southeast High School, Curtis Middle School and Caldwell Elementary all went into lockdown on Jan. 31 after a drive-by shooting nearby. An SRO at Southeast spotted the SUV that had been hit by the gunfire and found that two victims of the shooting had gone into Southeast.

Had one of the gang members gotten inside Southeast or Curtis with a gun, Stolz said, the SRO inside would not have had a Taser. SROs have, however, carried guns.

"We prefer to Taser someone than to shoot them," he said. Police officers in schools will continue to carry guns.

Teena Artis, who has a son in eighth grade at Brooks Middle School, said the presence of officers with Tasers in school is unsettling to her, but she also said she can see the police's position.

"I would prefer them to use a Taser before they pull out a gun," she said.

Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, a Cleveland-based consulting firm specializing in school security and safety issues, said the key word for the use of Tasers in schools is "conservative."

"There are some very legitimate unanswered questions about the physiological impact of the Taser on teenage bodies," Trump said.

But fears that Taser usage will become frequent in school hallways are unfounded, he said.

"Contrary to perceptions, officers are not zapping kids for not having hall passes," Trump said.

The key, Trump said, is that school resource officers follow department policies and procedures and use common sense.

When incident reviews have determined that the use of a Taser in a school setting was inappropriate, he said, "it is the common sense component that's been lacking."

NOW YOU KNOW

Strict Controls: Who Shouldn't Be Shot with a Taser

The police department's use of force policy states that "extreme caution" should always be used when deploying the Taser on people who:

  • Are obviously pregnant
  • Have a known heart problem or debilitating illness
  • Are near flammable materials or liquids
  • Are in an elevated position, in water, or in other circumstances in which a fall may cause drowning, substantial injury or death
  • Are very young or elderly
  • Are handcuffed or shackled

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