San José Municipal Police are walking the streets of the capital with stun guns that can penetrate through two inches of clothing to deliver a jolt of 50,000 volts of electricity from up to 20 feet away to immobilize targets.
Twenty officers, who have been trained to use the weapons, are armed with the controversial zappers and Municipal Police are waiting for delivery of a dozen more.
San José Police Chief Manuel Garro said the stun guns “protect the life of criminals,” by giving officers a less lethal option to regular guns and nightsticks in emergency situations. Garro said the weapons are to be used in cases in which suspects are resisting arrest, are armed with knives or other handheld weapons, or are overly aggressive.
Police have already used the stun guns in at least 10 cases, against violent subjects, drug addicts who refused to cooperate, and on two occasions against suspects with handheld weapons that could have pierced an officer, Garro said.
Though the use of stun guns has sparked controversy and reports of deaths in other countries where they are used, Garro said San José police have received no complaints regarding the new Taser X26 weapons, he said.
The Taser X26 ofers the highest takedown power available, acording to manufacturer Taser International’s Web site (www.taser.com). Its electro-muscular disruption (EMD) technology temporarily overrides the central nervous system, taking over target’s muscular control.
Garro said the Taser guns would have come in handy, for example, when two Rottweilers mauled a Nicaraguan man to death while police and other authorities looked on in late 2005. Authorities who arrived at the scene later said they didn’t act out of fear they might hit the man if they opened fire on the dogs (TT, Nov. 18, 2005).
Had authorities been armed with stun guns, “a human life could have been saved” and an international dispute might have been averted, Garro said. After the man’s death, the government of Nicaragua accused Costa Rica of xenophobia in a case before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission; the case was later dismissed (TT,March 16).
The Chief Prosecutor’s Office also filed criminal charges against two of the police officers present during the attack after a report showed they had an opportunity to try to save the Nicaraguan (TT, Nov. 17, 2006).
Stun gun use, though more tame than firearm use, has stirred controversy in other countries such as the United States. A recent Amnesty International report points to the deaths of more than 150 people since 2001 following stun weapon shocks in that country.
Still, the U.S.-based Taser International maintains its product is nonlethal, and court cases seeking damages from the company have failed.
Last month, a U.S. district court in Florida dismissed a lawsuit against Taser in which victims or families of victims shocked with stun guns alleged wrongful injury or death. It was the 41st such lawsuit against Taser that has been dismissed. Taser said in a statement it has never lost a product liability lawsuit.
More than 8,000 law enforcement agencies around the world use stun weapons because the product has prompted a “dramatic” reduction of injuries to both officers and suspects, according to Taser.
Taser claims suspect injuries and officer-involved shootings decreased by more than 50% in the city of Phoenix, in the U.S. state of Arizona where Taser is based, in 2000, the year that law enforcement agencies began using stun weapons in that city.
Taser also sells the weapons to citizens in the United States, though some cities, counties and states in the United States restrict or ban their use by people who are not police officers.
No laws regulate citizen taser use in Costa Rica, according to Garro, though he said he believes Taser hasn’t marketed the weapons to citizens in this country.
Taser didn’t respond by press time to inquiries about whether its products have been sold to citizens in Costa Rica.
Garro said Taser representatives came to San José last year to train police how to use the weapons. With 20 of 300 officers already armed to zap, he said the municipality has ordered 12 more of the weapons, which cost about $1,000 each.
Jesús Ureña, spokesman for the Public Security Ministry, said the National Police and the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) are looking into purchasing stun guns for their officers.