LENOX -- First came the sizzling, rapid-clicking sounds accompanied by intimidating, arcing electrical sparks. Then, a police officer yelled "Taser, Taser!"
Down for the count went Officer John Willey, groaning, but quickly recovering from the impact of the shock to his system.
Willey was the first of three volunteers who played roles as "victims" during a four-hour Taser training session held over the weekend for the Lenox department.
Manufactured by Taser International, the electroshock unit causes neuromuscular incapacitation by disrupting a person's voluntary control of their muscles through a nonlethal jolt of electrical current, according to the company and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
"I'm the most junior man in the department and felt obligated to do it," Willey explained moments after arising from the floor of the Town Hall auditorium, where the session was conducted. "It was incapacitating, very painful over my whole body. My muscles are tight right now."
He said he had no regrets about volunteering: "I'd do it again." On his regular shift Monday after working two weekend tours, Willey said he felt no lingering effects other than some muscle soreness. Part-time Lenox officers Eric Kirby and Thomas Scherben also were "Tased" during the session.
Funded by a $5,000 anonymous donation to cover the cost of three Taser units, cartridges and training materials, the Lenox force has joined a half-dozen other Berkshire County departments authorized by the state's Executive Office of Public Safety to use electronic control devices (ECDs).
The Tasers, deemed less dangerous than pepper spray, are designed for rare, last-resort uses in extreme situations against suspects who become aggressive, ignore repeated verbal and visual warnings, and refuse police orders to surrender.
The devices deliver a targeted shock to the nervous system in order to briefly disable individuals. Recovery is swift, within minutes, but use of the units against "susceptible" individuals is avoided -- youths under 17, adults over 70, pregnant women or people in obvious ill health.
The training session on Saturday morning was led by Lee Police Sgt. Jeffrey Roosa, a Taser instructor certified by the Municipal Police Training Commission, and was attended by eight full-time members of the 10-man Lenox police force, including Chief Stephen O'Brien, as well as several part-time officers and emergency first-responders from the Lenox Fire Department. Roosa has trained Lee police officers as well as several officers in other communities.
"Hopefully, we're just adding another tool to our arsenal to keep police officers and combatant individuals safe," O'Brien said. "We're not trying to hurt anybody with this, we're trying to do this in the safest, most non-injurious manner possible."
"It's on the same level as a baton," said Roosa, "but much less intrusive. A lot of times, just the threat of a Taser will accomplish the goal without having to deploy it."
The Lee department, which has had the Taser units for 21 2 years, has not deployed them but has displayed them on occasion as a deterrent, he said.
"It's going to greatly reduce officers' injuries because they won't have to go hands-on with people," Roosa said. "It's not a ‘magic bullet' by any means. But when used correctly, it's going to greatly assist us in getting people into custody. Just having it is a big deterrent."
Inevitably, injuries to suspects are reduced as well, according to O'Brien. He said that the department has prepared policy guidelines for Taser use and also revised its use-of-force policies, which detail how the police can deploy the units to subdue combative individuals actively resisting arrest or an officer's commands.
Each on-duty patrol shift, normally two officers, will be assigned to carry the units, with the third held in reserve as needed.
O'Brien, in his 19th year with the Lenox department and his ninth year as chief, said he could recall several incidents that would have called for use of a Taser, including a suspect who "put his head through the windshield of a cruiser and wanted to fight, so you've almost immediately reached a stage when a Taser would be appropriate."
"But what we're focusing on is a deterrent by displaying the Taser itself," O'Brien said. "I really want the officers to concentrate on the stages of warnings" before the electrical current would be aimed at a suspect, carefully targeted to avoid frontal attacks and vital areas.
The device would not be aimed at a citizen in a stairwell or other location where an injury could occur.
"We have to deploy this in a place where it's safe for the suspect as well as the police officer," said O'Brien. "The whole object is to avoid injury to anyone and to defuse a confrontation."
To contact Clarence Fanto:
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto
Taser guidelines. . .
Here are several highlights from the seven-page policy manual governing the use of electronic control devices (ECDs) by the Lenox Police Department:
-- ECDs will be made available as a less-lethal use of force option, and may be used only by authorized and trained personnel.
-- The device will be carried in an approved holster in a cross-draw configuration on the side of the body opposite the service handgun. It will be carried fully armed with the safety on in preparation for immediate use when authorized.
-- In drive stun mode, the device is a pain compliance tool rather than an electro-muscular disruptor. It may be deployed as a pain compliance technique in response to an active resistant person. When fully deployed, discharged cartridges become an electro-muscular disruptor.
-- Firing the device-cartridge to deploy electrodes is a defensive tactic. It may be used in response to an assaultive person
-- Intentionally firing the device at the head or the neck is a deadly force countermeasure in response to a lethal threat. ECDs are not a substitute for lethal force. Officers are not expected to respond to a lethal force threat with a less lethal force option such as an LCD.
-- Deployment is prohibited in a punitive or coercive manner or on a handcuffed or secured prisoner absent overtly assaultive behavior that cannot be dealt with in any other less intrusive fashion.
Source: Lenox Police Department
The following Berkshire County police departments are approved by the state to deploy electronic control devices under specifically-defined circumstances:
Adams, Dalton, Lee , Lenox,
North Adams, Pittsfield,
Source: Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety.