The Tasers aren’t even out of the boxes yet, but public agency watchdogs say they’re stunned to learn the Forest Service recently spent $600,000 to buy 700 of them, enough to arm every agency law enforcement officer nationwide. On Dec. 4, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) released records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act showing the Forest Service purchased the Tasers but can’t utilize them because it hasn’t developed a policy on their use or trained employees in Taser protocol.
The executive director of PEER, Jeff Ruch, points out that recent Taser-linked deaths in the news should inspire caution on the part of public agencies, but his main concern is that the cash-strapped Forest Service, still reeling from the costs of an intense fire season, shouldn’t be buying weapons.
Christine Romero, a public affairs specialist for the Northern Region of the Forest Service, says the agency plans to develop a Taser policy and train its officers in their use by next summer so they can be deployed in the field. Fifty-five of them are bound for the Northern Region, which includes Montana.
She says increased violence on national forest lands prompted the agency to add Tasers to its officers’ arsenals. She also points out that other federal land agencies, such as the National Park Service, already use Tasers.
“I know this has become a controversial issue, but we’d like the public to know that the safety of the public is one of our primary concerns,” Romero says. “To help ensure safety, it was determined that officers need to have more use-of-force options to allow them to safely and effectively perform their duties.”
Ruch says the Taser craze among federal land managers has all the appearances of a mindless arms race that has escaped public scrutiny in Congress. “As a result,” he says, “in addition to the howl of the coyote and the hoot of the owl, the plaintive cry of ‘Don’t Tase me, bro’ may soon echo through the forest night.”