The Kansas Highway Patrol months ago showed interest in its troopers using Tasers as a less deadly alternative when they need to use force against an unruly suspect.
Highway Patrol authorities at the time said they would ask Kansas residents for their thoughts and gauge responses before handing out the electronic stun guns.
"By working and sharing ideas and concerns, we can better serve you," the patrol told residents in its introduction to an online Taser safety survey.
But public opinion might not stop troopers from using the weapons.
According to procurement records on file with the Kansas Department of Administration, the Highway Patrol began asking for the Tasers months before the deadline for public reaction.
According to a Highway Patrol timeline for implementing the electronic weapons, the public had 60 days to comment on the patrol's possible use of Tasers. The deadline for surveys is Tuesday.
But the patrol issued a request for bids for 40 model X26 weapons - produced exclusively by Taser International Inc. - on Feb. 24, 14 days after the survey period began, Department of Administration records show.
The bidding closed March 10, with the Highway Patrol agreeing to pay for the Tasers and other equipment.
Chris Howe, director of the Kansas Division of Purchases, said the state received two bids for the weapons, with the Highway Patrol agreeing to pay Taser International close to $41,700 for the stun guns and equipment.
Highway Patrol spokesman Lt. John A. Eichkorn said the request for the weapons was part of the agency's plan for implementing the Tasers, and that public input never was required to order the weapons.
"All of this is a phased deployment," Eichkorn said, adding that the Highway Patrol anticipated "that the public is going to support this equipment."
The Tasers will be used in the field and then, depending on the results, the patrol will arm more troopers with the weapons or review their use further, Eichkorn said.
- On the street: Do you think Kansas Highway Patrol officers should carry Tasers?
- Deputies will soon carry Tasers (10-09-05)
- Sheriff hopes policy prevents Taser misuse (11-18-04)
- Law enforcement departments defend use of Tasers (07-25-04)
- Kansas Highway Patrol Taser survey
- Amnesty International taser report
- Taser International
The Highway Patrol's plan for implementing the Tasers included steps to identify the department's responsibilities when using force, evaluate the surveys and create a comprehensive training program - all before officers begin testing the weapons in the field.
County use on hold
The Douglas County Sheriff's Department has received Tasers but has not yet allowed officers to use them in the field, department spokeswoman Keri Wempe said.
The department is reviewing policy and procedures for how and when the Tasers will be used, but Wempe said the Tasers would not be placed at a specific point on the use-of-force scale - meaning they won't be designated as a last resort or a first option.
"The situation is going to dictate how use of force is going to be done," Wempe said.
The Lawrence Police Department does not use Tasers. Wichita and Kansas City, Mo., police officers have used the weapons as an alternative to other less-deadly weapons such as batons or pepper spray.
The electronic weapons have created controversy in recent years after a string of deaths were attributed, at least in part, to Taser use, according to an Amnesty International report released last week.
The human rights advocacy group cited the death of Indiana inmate James Borden as a specific example. According to the report, medical examiners said Borden died after police stunned him with a Taser several times in November 2003.
The group also cited several broader problems with law enforcement agencies' use of Tasers. For example, Tasers are often used first when force is deemed necessary and have been used excessively, including reports of police shocking people four or five times even while in handcuffs, the report said.
Taser International spokesman Steve Tuttle said the company agreed with Amnesty International's position that law enforcement agencies should develop policies that dictate when and how Tasers can or should be used.
However, Tuttle said that field data have shown that when the weapons are used first when force becomes necessary, they prevent many incidents from escalating to a situation where deadly force is needed.
Tuttle also said that tests prove the weapons are a viable alternative when using force.
"Taser International has taken it upon itself to implement numerous measures to ensure that its weapon system is among the safest and most accountable use of force alternatives in the world," Tuttle said.