SEBRING - It used to be that during a violent or potentially violent encounter law enforcement officers had few alternatives for responding other than using their firearm or their fists. They may have carried night sticks and pepper spray.
Within the last decade, however, law enforcement officers in Sebring, Highlands County and Lake Placid began using Tasers or conducted electrical weapons. Officials in all three jurisdictions say they believe those weapons have reduced the need for deadly force and saved lives.
Lake Placid Police Chief James Fansler said that the officer having the weapon often is enough to resolve the situation.
"For the most part, the mere presence of the Taser quells the majority of disturbances," he said.
The weapons deliver a powerful shock.
Actual use of the weapon is apparently not that common. Typically, law enforcement agencies do not keep records of how often the weapon is displayed, as opposed to being used. Lake Placid Police Department officers only deployed it once on a subject during the past year. Highlands County deputies deployed the weapons 29 times in 2012 and 31 in 2013. In Sebring, police officers deployed the weapon 16 times since April 2012 and actually used it on a person nine times, Carr said.
Sebring Police Cmndr. Steve Carr said he has no doubt the Taser has the potential to save lives since otherwise shooting a gun may be the only alternative.
He said the department has used Tasers since 2007. There's been incidents where officers de-escalated the situation by using a Taser on a person with a knife, he said.
Highlands County deputies have used what are now called conducted electrical weapons for seven years, said Nicholas Kent, the deputy in charge of training.
The use of the weapon can result in controlling the situation faster, therefore reducing the potential for injuries during the situation, he said.
Situations that might call for the use include a fight or where a person refuses to stop resisting, he said.
Though there have been reports nationally - not in Highlands County - of people dying after a Taser was used on them, Kent said the death rate is much lower than if a gun were used.
"Nothing is fool-proof," he said.
In Lake Placid, the Police Department policy states that "the decision to deploy (the Taser shall involve an arrest or custodial situation wherein the subject is at minimum, exhibiting active physical resistance, or is escalating resistance from passive physical resistance towards active physical resistance, as well as preparing or attempting to flee or escape."