Jeremy Willis is far more familiar than most when it comes to understanding the sensation of being shot with a Taser. How the mind is completely disconnected from the muscles as they simultaneously lock.
On Thursday afternoon, Willis, who serves as the assistant chief of police for the Scribner Police Department, volunteered for the fourth time in his life to be a test dummy for a demonstration, only this time he wasn’t being shot with a Taser.
Instead, Willis was shot with a PhaZZer Enforcer, a less-lethal weapon intended to do the same job as a Taser with less adverse risks. Looking on were members of the Fremont Police Department, Omaha Police Department, Saunders County Sheriff’s Office and the Hooper Police Department who were present for a PhaZZer instructional seminar held inside of a training room at the Fremont Police Department.
Willis, who stands at 6-foot-7 and weighs approximately 310 pounds, was no match for the PhaZZer as he fell to the floor while being guided by two law enforcement members.
Asked of its effectiveness, Willis said, “I’m glad that I normally wouldn’t be on this end of it.”
PhaZZer Electronics is a privately-held corporation owned by Kirk French, a resident of Hooper and a military veteran. In 2006, research began to ensure that the PhaZZer product would not infringe upon the rights of TASER International, Inc.
The PhaZZer Dragon was launched in the United States civilian market in 2008, and in 2010 the PhaZZer Enforcer was released to law enforcement agencies internationally as a cost-effective, superior less-lethal weapon to the Taser M26 and X26E, as well as the later X26P model.
Approximately 300 law enforcement agencies in the United States now utilize the PhaZZer product, especially in the southeast region of the United States. This largely in part has to do with PhaZZer Electronics, Inc. now being ran out of the Orlando, Florida, area.
The big benefit of the PhaZZer Enforcer largely focused upon during the 40-minute informational meeting is that the Enforcer requires officers to make a conscientious decision should they opt to use more than 15 seconds of charge – the generally agreed maximum amount of time a body should be subject to current.
To achieve the 15 seconds, the PhaZZer Enforcer — which has approximately the same output as a Taser — has to have its trigger pulled three times, with each burst lasting five seconds. Following the five second jolt, a half-second must go by before the PhaZZer can be activated again.
“After the third trigger pull it will flash on the back green and red, and you can’t pull the trigger again,” said Steve Abboud, a consultant for PhaZZer Electronics. “That gives the officer a moment to pause when they are operating the weapon to decide, ‘do I need to do it again?’”
This is vital because it allows the officer the time necessary to assess the situation before overriding the safety to use the PhaZZer again. On a typical Taser, an officer can hold the trigger down as long as he or she deems necessary.
While Abboud says he doesn’t believe any good officer would intentionally use excessive force with a Taser, in the heat of the moment it can be difficult to keep tabs on how many seconds it was used for.
In June, a 29-year-old Omaha man died after a police officer used a Taser far beyond the recommended time frame. Abboud says this acts as a reminder that even less-lethal weapons are still lethal if they aren’t used properly.
“It’s like at the Omaha Police Department where 60 seconds was put into the body of that guy,” Abboud said. “I can almost be certain to say that if that officer would have had to recycle his safety four times he never would have put 60 seconds (of charge) into him. I think that that’s a fundamental flaw in the design of the (Taser) weapon.
Brandon Lorenson, a detective with the Fremont Police Department, said the program and demonstration were beneficial.
“I think it’s another great tool that’s out on the market to safely complete an arrest in a dangerous situation,” he said.
Lorenson said after a presentation like the one he saw there are numerous things to consider.
“Lt. (Glen) Still and I will talk to the Chief (Jeff Elliott), and probably put a video together showing the differences between the two (Taser and PhaZZer) and go from there,” he said.
While educating people about the device is important, Abboud said it’s often times difficult to get law enforcement away from what they have grown accustomed to.
“Tasers have had a stronghold in the United States now for a long time,” he said.