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October 26, 2001

Geoffroy seeks opinions on campus Tasers

by Anne Krapfl
President Gregory Geoffroy is seeking comments from the university community on two proposed changes to Iowa State's department of public safety. They are:
  • Rename the department's "law enforcement division" the "police division." Its sworn personnel would be "police officers" instead of "public safety officers."
  • Include the Advanced Taser stun device as part of the equipment carried regularly by all certified and trained officers.
Iowa State's Critical Incident Response Team made the recommendations to vice president for business and finance Warren Madden, who concurred and forwarded them to Geoffroy.

"These changes, if they occur, must reflect broad agreement within the university community that they are both appropriate and timely," Geoffroy said. Comments should be sent by Dec. 1 to Campus leadership groups also have been asked to respond to the proposals.

According to the first proposal, the new names will help the community better understand the role of the department. DPS officers point out that some on campus perceive them as security personnel; others mistakenly associate "public safety" with occupational or public health, not law enforcement. The department is a professional, nationally accredited law enforcement agency.

How Taser weapons work
The proposed use of Taser devices is intended to help officers respond to dangerous individuals with a less-than-lethal option. This kind of stun weapon uses compressed nitrogen to shoot two darts fine, insulated wires up to 21 feet. When the darts contact the targeted person, the weapon transmits electrical pulses along the wires into the person's body. The person instantly loses neuromuscular control and feels dazed and off balance for anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, leaving the officer a short time period to restrain and control him or her. Normal body functioning returns shortly to the targeted person. In a test of the device, none of 579 volunteers who were stunned experienced any injuries from the Taser.

Currently, ISU officers carry pepper spray and expandable batons; when they know that an incident involves a dangerous weapon, they call the Ames Police Department for assistance.

National downward trends in violent crime including murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault are mirrored in Iowa, but ISU officers report a growing number of calls for help involving threatening statements and behavior. The complexity of these kinds of situations, they argue, calls for better technology and resources.

According to a 1995 report by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics on campus law enforcement agencies, more than 90 percent of campuses with 20,000 or more students armed their officers with guns. Among both the Land-Grant Peer 11 schools and Big 12 Conference schools, Iowa State is the only school whose officers work routinely without firearms.

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