The Anchorage Police Department is 36 Tasers stronger. The Tasers, funded through a 2011 state appropriation, arrived earlier this week, according to police spokesman Lt. Dave Parker. He said the new X-26 hand-held Tasers will be assigned to patrol officers first.
That will bring the number of patrol officers carrying a Taser to 152 out of 200. With that, 44 percent of the police department's 380 sworn officers will be equipped with Tasers.
Questions over the use of less-than-lethal weapons emerged this summer after police shot and killed two men who brandished weapons.
Much of the outcry surrounded Mountain View resident Shane Tasi, a 26-year-old father of four. In June, officers responded to reports of a person screaming in Tasi's apartment. Within minutes, Officer Boaz Gionson arrived on the scene, and Tasi emerged from his apartment carrying a 4-foot-long stick. Despite multiple requests, Tasi refused to drop the stick and was shot when he approached Gionson brandishing the weapon. Gionson, a four-and-a-half-year veteran of the force, was cleared of any wrongdoing by the state office of special prosecution.
Some in Anchorage wondered why the officer did not use a Taser during the confrontation. Gionson had not been issued a Taser.
The shooting sparked a rally and multiple meetings between police and members of the Polynesian community concerning the use of force.
Tasers are not considered a cure-all, however. In June, Anchorage Police Chief Mark Mew told Alaska Dispatch that equipping every police officer had not been a priority, saying Anchorage Police wanted to wait and see what the courts and public opinion decided on the weapons.
Recently, a Bethel Superior Court judge overturned a $500,000 settlement awarded to Thomas "Boya" Olson, who was Tased 15-18 times in a confrontation with Hooper Bay police officers in 2006. Citing qualified immunity, the judge found that the officers were justified in Tasing Olson multiple times as he resisted arrest.
Most other major police forces in Alaska are fully equipped with Tasers, including all Alaska State Troopers and the police departments in Fairbanks and Juneau.
The Tasers will not immediately show up on the street. Parker said Anchorage officers will have to go through training before they can carry the weapon. Part of the training includes being shot with a Taser.
The state appropriation allocated $47,300 to purchase the weapons. Tasers, at about $1,300 each, are much more expensive than the $400 hand guns officers carry.
Currently, there is no money in the municipal budget for purchasing more Tasers or other less-than-lethal weapons. The budget process is still in its early stages, however, and the assembly could decide to appropriate more.
Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna(at)alaskadispatch.com