A year after the Richmond County Sheriff's Office issued Tasers to more than 300 road patrol deputies, officials say they are pleased with the addition of the less-lethal device.
Tasers were introduced to deputies in March 2013, sheriff's Lt. Calvin Chew said, but were used in the Augusta-Richmond County Jail and the Charles B. Webster Detention Center since January 2013.
Deputies are required to fill out use of force reports any time the weapon is drawn.
Since Jan. 1, 2013, deputies have filed more than 317 reports with the department's Internal Affairs office involving the Taser X2, Chew said.
As of March 4, deputies have deployed Tasers and hit their mark 183 times. Deputies have used the drive stun feature, which allows deputies to stun suspects in tight quarters and in large crowds by pressing the device on the body of the suspect, on 55 occasions.
Chew also said that deputies have deployed Tasers and missed their mark 20 times in the past year, and have accidently discharged their devices five times.
Lt. Bill Probus, who hosts a Taser certification class at the Richmond County Sheriff's Office Training Center in Blythe each month, said the increased use of Tasers has given deputies more options when it comes to apprehending suspects.
“The biggest advantage I think we've seen over this past year is that it has limited the hand-to-hand contact that deputies have had to take with combative subjects,” he said. “When you limit those hand-to-hand deals…you lessen the chances of someone becoming hurt.”
Prior to the addition of the Taser X2, deputies had to rely on their hands or pepper spray to wrangle suspects. In more extreme cases, Probus said, deputies had the option of an impact weapon like an expandable baton.
Those options, however, weren't as effective as the Taser, he said.
“We train our deputies with OC (pepper) spray,” Probus said. “We have a significant portion of people who don’t react like a lot of other people react to it. It's irritating, but it's certainly not incapacitating like the Taser is.”
Sometimes the sight of a Taser is enough to stop aggressive suspects. Since Jan. 2013, deputies have displayed their Tasers on 90 occasions without firing a cartridge, Chew said.
Probus said he recalls a recent First Friday celebration in downtown Augusta when deputies became involved in a foot pursuit after three people stole money from a street performer’s hat. When deputies cornered the suspects, they only had to display the device and bark out warnings before the suspects surrendered.
“I think enough of them have experience with them and enough of them realize that they don't want to go down that road,” Probus said of the criminals.
The deputies aren’t strangers to the capabilities of the Tasers either, Probus said.
Deputies are required to attend classes during the Taser certification process and must pass a written test. They must deploy two cartridges while supervised and must demonstrate that they know how to properly manipulate the weapon.
In the final phase of the certification process, the trainees are “energized,” he said.