MILTON-FREEWATER - When Hermiston Police Chief Dan Coulombe pulled the trigger on the taser, blue electrical charges popped around the nose of the gun, making a popping noise like a bug zapper hitting a swarm of gnats.
When he unleashed a half-second burst with the probes attached to Milton-Freewater Police Chief Mike Gallagher, the latter crumpled to the floor, his face contorted in pain.
"I could feel it in my arms and legs; I felt them just being wrenched," Gallagher said. Even with a half second burst he could not have attacked Coulombe.
Coulombe was demonstrating the taser's effectiveness as a non-lethal law enforcement weapon Monday to the Milton-Freewater City Council.
Later, 16-year-old Shawn Hanson volunteered to be zapped for another demonstration. Hanson, a Walla Walla Valley Academy student, was attending the meeting as part of an English project. John McMackin, 21, a Walla Walla College Junior studying Mass Communication Media, also volunteered to test the weapon's effectiveness at close range.
"It was like sticking your tongue to a 9 volt battery only a lot stronger," McMackin said. He was filming the demonstration for Blue Mountain News.
While Coulombe only fired short half-second bursts, in the field officers fire the gun for five seconds, which leaves the victim disoriented for 15 to 20 seconds. A taser works by shooting two probes, which look like small fish hooked spikes, into the perpetrator and then sending 50,000 volts of electricity along the wires.
Even at that voltage, tasers will not interfere with electrical devices such as pacemakers and will not kill a person, he said.
"It sends an electrical wave into the body that the body doesn't understand," Coulombe said. The response is to shut down. Tasers incapacitates the sensory and motor skills, Coulombe explained.
The Hermiston Police Department has been using tasers for the past year and has noticed a large drop in injuries to officers and perpetrators, he said. The first man shot with a tasers was in the jail telling everyone about it; he even called his brother about the experience. "Word spread pretty quick," Coulombe said.
The department has fired tasers seven times in the last year, and only two perpetrators have needed a second shock, he said.
The weapon can be fired up to 21 feet away and runs off a battery pack with eight AA batteries. The electrical surge will go through up to three inches of clothing and can also be used as a stun gun up close.
A taser costs $400 per unit and the packs containing probes are about $18 a piece. Officers must go through training to use the weapons.
Currently, Hermiston, Umatilla and Eastern Oregon Correctional Institute use tasers, while Pendleton and the Umatilla County Sheriff's Office are considering or are in the process of purchasing tasers.
City Manager Delphine Palmer said she had requested the demonstration because she was thinking they would be a good tool for the city's police department.
"It makes things safer for our police officers and our perpetrators," she said.
The city is considering buying one taser for each of Milton-Freewater's nine police officers, she said. The city is looking at possible grants to help pay for the weapons.