Seattle Shocker

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Local NAACP leader Carl Mack had one word of advice after police staged a demonstration so he could find out what a 50,000-volt jolt from a Taser feels like: "Comply."

Actually, he had two words, but the first isn't printable.

Mack and fellow volunteer Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske were held up by two officers each Friday and , administered through alligator clips attached to their shirts.

Mack stiffened and cursed. Kerlikowske groaned and slumped. Then — as had been predicted — they shook off the effects and spoke with reporters.

"As soon as it's over, it's over," Officer Tom Burns, a Taser trainer, had explained.

"It's very painful," Kerlikowske said. "You can't move, you couldn't blink if you wanted to. ... There are shock waves going through your body. It's a scary feeling."

Mack said he felt a burning sensation where the electricity entered his body. The pulsing "affected every muscle in my body. It takes everything away from you.

"I've never felt anything like that in my life," he said. "You can't control anything."

Mack had asked for the zapping, saying it would help him better understand the weapon and deal with complaints about alleged Taser abuse.

It also increased his respect for Kerlikowske, he said. "The chief said, 'Well, I've never been tased as well, so if you'll do it, I'll do it.'"

Mack said he was grateful that while he had initially wanted a full 5-second burst, "the chief talked me into two."

The Tasers contain computer chips that log each use — date, time, frequency — to provide what Officer Chris Myers called "an impartial witness," so allegations of abusive multiple use can be easily checked.

Any weapon can be abused "in a sick kind of way," Mack said. But if the weapon's computerized log refutes a complainant's account, "his credibility is gone."

All Taser use is reviewed, said Myers, also a Taser trainer. The department has 220 Tasers and they're used an average of about 13 times a month.

The weapon became part of the agency's non-lethal arsenal after an officer killed an armed and mentally ill black man, David Walker, in April 2000. Walker's death and those of several other black men killed by officers have raised concerns about racism and racial profiling.

"I think some of those lives could have been saved with this technology," Mack said.

He said he would not call himself a fan of the Taser, "But if it comes to tasering versus death, I would take the option of tasering."

Mack and Kerlikowske experienced "contact" Taser use. In the field, an officer can press the open end of the device against an offender and pull the trigger to launch a 5-second Taser burst of 50,000 volts.

All officers trained in Taser use are zapped with it to learn how it feels.

The devices also can be fitted with a cartridge to fire a pair of nitrogen-propelled darts that trail 21-foot copper wires. Both must strike the target to complete an electrical circuit.

Used that way, "it's a single-shot weapon" with no second chance if an officer misses, Myers said.

Mack said he could appreciate that an officer facing an erratic armed offender in heavy clothing may rely on his handgun instead — or that a handcuffed defendant in a patrol car may warrant a reminder from the Taser if he is kicking out the car windows.
  • Dan Collins

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