Sometime in March Decatur’s police force will add electronic control devices, or Tasers, into their weapon repertoire. According to Police Chief Mike Booker, Tasers fill the gap between firearms and oleoresin vapsicum pepper spray.
“For a number of reasons there are more people on the street with mental illness,” Booker said. “Spray can sometimes make a person under the influence, or mentally ill, even madder. The Taser can immediately calm them down, get them to the point where we can reason with them, or get them to take their medication if that’s the problem.”
Booker cites a 2015 Washington Post study showing that about 25 percent of victims shot by police have some type of mental illness. Civilians with mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed by police than other civilians, and 11 percent of all police shootings are ruled “suicide by cop.”
In recent years Decatur cops have rarely faced violent scenarios. In 2016 and 2017 Decatur officers arrested a total 1,279 persons (701 last year, 578 in 2016) and used force 43 times or 3.36 percent. They pointed their pistols a total 24 times, but there was no lethal force, and even no cases of using pepper spray.
Decatur has 47 officer and Booker estimates receiving 40 Tasers. Cost over five years is $124,849, after which the contract gets renewed for another five years.