LONG BEACH - There were some shocking developments at the Long Beach City Council meeting last Wednesday night, literally.
The meeting began quietly enough. Council members approved the consent agenda. Then moved on to a design review for a single-family residence in Seacrest, which they also approved.
Economic Activity Coordinator Ragan Andrew gave an update on the progress of Summerfest events planning. Andrew told the council she was scheduling some fun but educational weekends, featuring beach and fire safety, as well as a Humane Society adopt-a-petathon. She said to expect a return of the horse-drawn carriage, as well as musical events and face-painters.
In addition, she has come up with an inventive strategy to generate funds to help support Summerfest - a dunk tank featuring city officials. She asked that council members volunteer two hours of their time to the venture. The officials in question quickly started offering their time to each other, fearful that someone might be left out of the fun, no doubt.
In the spirit of fair play, to give council members a chance to respond to previous and future articles, this reporter volunteers to take a turn sitting the plank in the tank as well.
The next item on the agenda electrified the council and audience when the Long Beach Police Department gave a Taser demonstration.
"I offered myself up but the chief wouldn't let me," said Mayor Ken Ramsey.
The demonstration included video presentations, followed by a live Tasering of volunteer Long Beach Police Officer Paul Jacobson.
There was initially some good-natured, though somewhat nervous joking concerning the demonstration. Then the videos began to roll. The first of three videos was produced by the makers of Tasers, demonstrating that even a very large, combat-trained military expert could be stopped by a Taser when other forms of restraint were totally ineffective. The muscle-bound man, who during his career still completed his missions after being hit with a grenade, dropped like a stone.
The next two videos showed footage from actual police incidents, a domestic violence call and a traffic stop involving an antagonistic drunken driver, situations law enforcement officers encounter on the Peninsula every day.
Both showed belligerent and uncooperative suspects who attempted to attack the officers. In both cases the Taser proved effective, preventing the need for the use of greater force by the officers. In both instances, the officers were alone, with assistance a long way off, a common occurrence for law enforcement officers here on the Peninsula.
"That's what concerns me," said Council member Ralph Moore. "Sometimes backup doesn't get there fast enough."
After seeing the videos, Ramsey had changed his mind about volunteering. "I'm not getting hit with that Taser, no way," he said.
"They're a tool, just a tool," said Long Beach Police Chief Flint Wright. He said the Olympia Police Department describes them as the best tool they have. He emphasized that officers would all receive training in the use of the device, and proper guidelines would be followed. Wright said reports of deaths by Tasers, on further examination, were all cause by drug overdoses and not the device.
Officers Kevin Martin and Jeff Cutting then took over the demonstration. They showed the council a Taser and explained how it worked. Martin showed the prongs that become embedded in the individual to deliver the shock. They resembled straight fishhooks.
Officer Jacobson then stepped to the front of the chamber. He was flanked on either side by officers to catch him when, not if, he fell. Jacobson, at 6 foot 7 inches is a large individual. Officer Sarah Vaughn is not. But, when she used the Taser, she was able to stop Jacobson easily, and he crumpled to the ground.
Jacobson quickly recovered, and since he showed no belligerence, Vaughn only shocked him once. For his courage, not just in volunteering to be Tasered, but for his willingness to do so in front of a crowd, Jacobson received applause and hand shakes from all.
He said he felt no lingering aftereffects at all, and actually pulling the barbs out hurt more than the Tasering itself.
"It made my muscles freeze up and forced the air out of my lungs," he said. "I couldn't really move at all. It definitely is effective." He said. And he feels they actually increase the safety of suspects and officers. He has had to deal with offenders high on drugs. "Without a Taser, you almost have to break a bone or disable a joint," to subdue those anesthetized and crazed by drugs.
Jacobson will not be the last officer to be Tasered. The training required each officer seeking certification in Taser use to undergo the same treatment Jacobson received.