A jailer’s job can be dangerous work.
Dealing with inmates who are uncooperative or combative can result in fights, and fights often result in injuries to inmates and deputies alike, Richmond County sheriff’s Capt. Bill Reeves said.
“We’ve had plenty of deputies get hurt and be out of work for a couple of weeks or more,” he said. “They get broken fingers, hurt wrists, sprained ankles – all kinds of stuff.”
Those types of injuries have become a lot less common in the past three months. Reeves said there is one reason for that: Deputies have started using Tasers.
According to sheriff’s “use of force” reports, the number of fights with inmates and injuries has been reduced by more than half since the stun guns were introduced in Richmond County jails.
“It used to be that if an inmate didn’t cooperate, you would have to put your hands on them and that would end up in a fight,” Reeves said. “Now we don’t do that. Now we let them know if they don’t follow directions they will be tased.”
About 20 deputies have been trained to use and carry Taser model X26, a small pistollike device that fires two barbed darts attached to wires up to 25 feet long. After the darts embed in the skin of the target, the Taser sends a five-second burst of 5,000 volts of pulsing electricity. The charge disrupts the body’s normal electrical impulses and leaves the person in a heap on the floor.
“You pop them; they get five seconds of pure hell,” Reeves said. “After that, then it is over with. They usually do exactly what you tell them to do.”
The Tasers, which cost about $8,400 total, have been used eight times since they were introduced in late April, but jail officials say the influence on inmate behavior was apparent right away.
“There was an immediate impact from one day to the next after we started using them,” said Sgt. Matt Tindell, who is in charge of jail security at the Charles B. Webster Detention Center on Phinizy Road.
Tindell said the mere threat of a stun gun is enough to calm inmates who in previous situations would have been ready to fight.
Use-of-force records, which indicate that deputies had to use more than words to control inmates or defend themselves, are down since the guns were purchased.
Records indicate that inmate assaults on deputies are down 52 percent from the three months before their use began. Staff injuries from inmates have dropped 64 percent, and total use-of-force reports have fallen 28 percent.
Reeves said the danger that an inmate will be injured in a fight with a deputy also has been reduced. In the past two months, there have been only two such incidents, according to jail records.
The only injuries from the weapons are the small punctures left by the barbed darts. There are no residual effects from the electrical charge, Reeves said.
Before being issued a stun gun, deputies must be trained – which includes experiencing being shot, Reeves said.
“We want deputies to know what they are putting somebody through when they tase them,” he said. “It is all for business.”
Tindell, who is now a certified instructor, can vividly recall his up-close encounter with the Taser X26. He said the pain was intense and incapacitating but vanished the moment the electrical current stopped.
“It was the worst five seconds of my entire life,” he said.