Talk about a diverse resume: Judy Martz, most recently Montana’s first female governor, has also skated for a U.S. Olympics speed-skating team (circa 1964), and ran a garbage business with her husband in Butte. Up next on her vita? Martz just joined the board of directors of Taser International, the major manufacturer of stun guns, or “advanced nonlethal devices” as the maker’s website calls them. But she may have jumped on board only to be greeted by rough waters.
Since late December, Taser’s stock has lost nearly two-thirds of its value amid controversy over the safety of its stun guns, which are blamed for a number of accidental fatalities, the Associated Press reported April 1. In January the Securities and Exchange Commission announced an inquiry into the company’s claims of taser safety, and an April 1 Amnesty International report cites 103 taser-related deaths since June 2001. Though Taser International maintains its weapons are safe, many of the 7,000 police departments worldwide that have embraced tasers as a law-enforcement tool are watching the debate closely.
Capt. Marty Ludemann, who’s in charge of Missoula’s uniform patrol division, says “we sure are keeping track of these inquiries and keeping tabs on whether we’ll have to change anything.”
The department’s 55 tasers went on the streets with most of Missoula’s police officers in October 2004, and they’ve been used six times against people physically resisting officers. Many more times they’ve been used as a threat to deter someone from fighting back, Ludemann says, and they’re part of an arsenal that includes pepper spray and collapsible batons. “Like any use of force, it has to be justified,” Ludemann says.
The tasers, at $800 each, were purchased with federal grant money, and each time they’re fired it costs $30 to replace the cartridge, Ludemann says. They shoot darts 25 feet that deliver 50,000-volt jolts for a few seconds.
And you thought Martz was shocking as governor…