Last week, the Portland Police Bureau announced its acquisition of a dozen Tasers--the "less-lethal" electroshock weapons recently distributed to United Airlines pilots. According to the manufacturer, these Tasers fire two probes at a target from up to

20 feet away; upon contact, a 50,000 volt electrical charge flows through the probes.

The decision to put Tasers into play on the streets has angered activists, who already fear that the police bully protesters and forego kinder, gentler forms of policing for quick solutions, like pepper spray and now, stun guns.

Moreover, Tasers and other electroshock weapons are currently under scrutiny by human rights advocates, Amnesty International, who believe the weapons pose medical threats--especially to individuals with cardiac conditions. The September 1, 2001 issue of the medical journal Lancet mentions several deaths that may have been Taser-related, including two subjects with histories of heart disease who experienced cardiac arrest directly after Taser shock. Amnesty mentions several Los Angeles deaths related to Tasers.

Portland police officer Tom Forsyth disputes this. The Taser's 50,000 volt charge simply "overrides the brain's ability to communicate with the muscles," incapacitating the subject, he says. This has "no lasting effects," on health or cardiac function, he adds. Forsyth cites Amnesty as a purveyor of the type of "misinformation going around" about Tasers. "[The weapons] will save lives--they have already saved lives," he claims.

Chief Kroeker acquired the new arsenal without consulting Portland's new review board, the Independent Police Review Division (IPR). This adds fuel to the fire for the Police Accountability Campaign, (PAC), who presented their first "report card" for the IPR on Wednesday, amid theatrics at City Hall. PAC believes that such a major decision should have had an opportunity for public comment. Giving the IPR an "F" for its failures to fulfill the IPR's mission statements, PAC finds the new board even more bureaucratic than its predecessor. PAC reported that the IPR director exercises inordinate control over the board. Thus far, IPR has upheld Internal Affairs' decision in four out of five reviewed cases.