By Kelsey Givens
“Taser, taser, taser!”
Those three words were the only warning cadets received before a surge of electricity shot through their bodies, incapacitating them, as they experienced the true power of a stun gun.
During the most recent police academy exercise Tuesday, cadets were exposed to the non-lethal weapons they will likely carry, and might use, as deputies, including tasers, pepper ball guns and Oleoresin Capsicum OC spray.
The purpose of the exercise was to help cadets understand what each of these weapons feels like.
After going through this, cadets will hopefully be more humane in deciding when to use force, and understand how to work through them should they ever have to in an emergency, Assistant Sheriff Rick Marshall explained.
“Students get exposed to it so that they can see the effects it has should someone manage to get their taser away from them or their OC. They see how incapacitating it is and they actually learn from it so they’re more humane in their use of it,” he said.
The day began with the taser exercise, which was conducted inside the sheriff’s office in a room currently serving as the cadets’ classroom.
The sheriff, assistant sheriff, captain and many other deputies and detectives dropped in to watch and help film the exercise, as well as to laugh at the pain they knew first-hand the cadets were going through.
As taser instructor, Det. David Boruchowitz got his stun gun ready and began by asking who wanted to be first, the cadets’ anxiety and apprehension could be felt hanging in the air.
The first to go were Jeremy Bunker, 32, and Alvin Hill, 50.
Each of these two chose a different means of receiving their shock.
Cadets had a choice of being shot with probes or having alligator clips hooked up to their clothes. It was split about half and half who chose which means of getting their jolt, Marshall said.
Bunker went first, choosing to get the probes.
Boruchowitz gave him a warning and then shot him in the back from several feet away. The taser clicked loudly as electricity surged from the gun to Bunker.
His body seized up; he had to rely on his spotters to keep him upright, before the shock stopped and he was laid flat on the ground.
While lying on the ground recovering, Boruchowitz used that time to show the cadets the proper way to remove the probes from a suspect.
One by one the cadets stepped up on the blue mat, and had their arms held by spotters as they faced away from Boruchowitz waiting for their shock.
Several times, Boruchowitz decided to mess with the anxiously waiting cadets, yelling taser, taser, taser without actually shooting them.
Other members of the force continually tried to offer advice about the exercise to cadets to make it easier on them.
“Just remember, whatever you think you’re going to say when you get tased is what you’re going to say,” Sheriff Tony DeMeo explained to the cadets, trying to help them not yell out anything embarrassing when they took their turn.
Another deputy even advised Kaitlyn Ferrel, 22, not to use the alligator clips, telling her they hurt more than the probes. DeMeo agreed, explaining the clips hurt more because, “with the probes you’re getting direct contact, but with the clips you get arcing, which hurts a lot more.”
Though this was a serious training exercise, that couldn’t keep everyone in the room from laughing each time a cadet reacted to the taser.
“I enjoyed it immensely; it was an electrifying experience,” Boruchowitz, who has been certified as a taser instructor for five years, said after it was all over.
He even made jokes about Mike Connelly, 23, after he looked overly sympathetic for the people he was spotting while they got tased.
With each passing round, cadets seemed to be looking forward to moving on from the tasers to the OC exercise.
Other officers in the room continued to tell them the OC was much, much worse, however, and they’d be wishing they were getting tased again by the time they were finished.
Once everyone had their turn, the class moved outside to the back parking lot of the sheriff’s office to begin the pepper ball and OC part of the day.
They started with the pepper balls, lining the cadets up along the fence and going down the line, one by one, shooting them with the powdered pellets.
After they had each been shot, it was finally time to be sprayed in the face with OC.
One at a time, deputies shot cadets in the face with the reddish orange spray, forcing them through several stations before they could be taken to the hose to rinse off.
Cadets had to jog forward and perform jumping jacks while reciting the phonetic alphabet and then run forward and order an imaginary suspect to the ground, before they could go to the hose near the edge of the parking lot.
What made the cadets even more flustered was Boruchowitz running behind them the whole time yelling at them, trying to get them to focus like it was a real situation.
“You’ve gotta fight through it, get your eyes open,” he would yell from behind each of the cadets.
Even after rinsing their faces off, cadets staggered around the parking lot like lost souls, trying to force their eyes open and recover.
Marshall said it takes about an hour to recover from the spray.
“It was really incapacitating,” Ferrel said of the experience.
“The OC spray is a non-flammable, water-based repellent that has Oleoresin Capsicum in it and it uses a habanero pepper grind in oil for the irritating agent. And it confuses and disorients someone. It attacks the mucus membranes, it attacks the eyes to make them blind and it gives the impression they’re choking or suffocating. It’s another way to take someone into custody compliant without injuring them,” Marshall explained.
After it was all over, the cadets were split on which part of the training was worse.
About half said they thought the taser was worse and the other half said they thought the OC was worse.
“I’d rather do pepper spray than taser,” Connelly said.
“At least with the taser you could fight someone after about five seconds were up,” Chris Hopson, 22, said.
Unfortunately for these cadets, this won’t be the last time they are subjected to the pain of the taser or OC.
In order to remain certified, Marshall said they have to go through this once a year as long as they want to remain on the force.