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A police chief explains.
It is, apparently, “Taser Time” in Van Meter, Iowa. The town of roughly 1,100 residents is raffling off the chance to tase one of its public officials—either city administrator Jake Anderson or councilman Bob Lacy, depending on who nets the most votes. Tickets are going for the low, low price of $5, and all proceeds will benefit local law enforcement.
Van Meter police chief Bill Daggett told CityLab that the town needs the funds for a second patrol car, after one was recently wrecked on the job. “It’s about fundraising,” he says. “It’s not about ‘We’ve got to tase somebody.’”
Shortly after announcing the event, the police department revised its flyer to clarify that the lucky ticket holder could opt to “save” the official by not using the Taser. Above all, Daggett says, Anderson and Lacy’s volunteerism “speaks to how much they care about the community.”
Still, the fundraising gimmick could not come at a worse time for police-community relations in the U.S. The April shooting death of Walter Scott in particular raised questions about police use of Tasers. Although the weapons are often viewed as a non-lethal alternative to firearms, they’ve been linked to at least 500 deaths in the U.S., according to a 2012 study by Amnesty International.
Taser shocks to the chest can cause cardiac arrest and sudden death, especially in individuals with pre-existing heart conditions. The risk “is no longer arguable,” cardiologist Byron Lee told The New York Times. “The national debate should now center on whether the risk of sudden death with Tasers is low enough to warrant widespread use by law enforcement.” The manufacturer, TASER International, has always maintained that the weapons are safe—though in 2009 it officially recommended aiming Tasers below a target’s chest.
In Van Meter at least, response to the Taser raffle has been largely positive. Daggett said the city has received many calls from residents interested in buying tickets, and only a few emails questioning the propriety of the event.
This isn’t the first time someone has volunteered to get tased for a good cause. In 2013, the police chief of Knightstown, Indiana, put himself in the line of fire to raise money for his department.
This article was originally published at CityLab, an Atlantic Media partner site.