State College, Penn State police departments to equip officers with Tasers

CDT photo

Officers with the State College and Penn State police departments have a new tool on their belts for dealing with violent or resisting perpetrators.

Officials from the departments announced Tuesday that police from the agencies are now carrying Tasers. The two agencies were the last in the county to adopt use of the electric device. The announcement came after more than a year of joint consideration and study by the police forces to evaluate safety and effectiveness, State College Police Chief Tom King said at a news conference.

“We’re confident now that Tasers have proved to reduce injuries to the public, reduce injuries to police officers and in some cases, save lives,” King said.

The devices will only be deployed when a suspect is actively resisting arrest or threatening themselves or others, Penn State Assistant Police Chief Bill Moerschbacher said. The mere presence of a Taser has been proved to de-escalate volatile situations, another reason for adoption, King said.

Officers from the departments conduct annual joint training each year, and Taser training was part of the curriculum earlier this year, King said. Only officers who have undergone training will carry one and the device will be mandatory for State College police who have been trained, King said. Officers must also undergo annual refresher training.

About 40 officers, including Moerschbacher, agreed to be immobilized by the device during training this year, King said.

“It was unpleasant,” he said.

If a Taser is used, deployment will be thoroughly evaluated by a supervising officer and each use will be recorded, King said. Medical personnel will be called to evaluate a suspect when use was necessary.

Penn State purchased 50 of the devices, which come with holsters and accessories, at a cost of $70,000. The announcement also applies to Penn State police at commonwealth campuses, Vice President for University Police and Public Safety Steve Shelow said. Officers at the other campuses will begin carrying Tasers by the spring or summer once they receive training, he said.

Student auxiliary officers will not carry the devices.

State College police bought 20 Tasers at a cost of $30,000, King said.

Other nonlethal options, like pepper spray and batons, were carried by officers before Tuesday’s announcement, King said.

“We want them to have one more option available to them before deadly force to consider,” King said.