Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Why Has the U.S. Forest Service Purchased $600,000 Worth of Tasers?

Ann Shibler
Tuesday December 11, 2007

Already in debt and understaffed, the U.S. Forest Service just spent $600,000 in purchasing handheld Tasers for every member of its Law Enforcement division.

Follow this link to the original source: "Cash Starved Forest Service Spends $600,000 to Buy Tasers"

Near the end of the U.S. Forest Service's fiscal year in September, there was a hurried single-source purchase of 700 Tasers for the Law Enforcement and Investigations division of the U.S. Forest Service. The Tasers are now sitting in storage, as there were no rules governing their use or a required training program yet developed by the USFS.

In fact, there was no public input, or congressional review of the purchase. There wasn't even a written explanation as to why the devices were needed. There was a very brief justification statement that really only described the item for purchase.

Jeff Ruch of the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) did request and receive, under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), records relating to the amount the Forest Service paid for the devices ($600,001.52 — $857 apiece), and the justification statement, but not any information that described the training that would have to be provided to agency personnel who will use the electronic Tasers. USFS director John Twiss issued a statement: "In the interest of customer service", we can tell you that the Forest Service is currently developing the required training and law enforcement officers will be required to attend prior to the issuance of, or authorization to carry or use, an Electronic Control Device."

OBM: So now, I guess...when your home are property is being threatened by fire and you want to stay to try and save your property using your own water hose your friendly forest fire fighter is authorized to tase you until you leave.

With the devastating forest fires of the past summer, one would think that director Twiss would have more important matters to address than the purchase of what we now know to be lethal weapons. The agency is presently a quarter of a billion dollars in debt and has 200 vacant positions, some lost to budget cuts and more to agents who have been reassigned to other obligations such as border patrol for the Department of Homeland Security. The USFS has over 750,000 million annual visitors and that leaves one officer overseeing approximately 1.5 million visitors and covering 300,000 acres of forest, and even more budget cuts are looming.

PEER, in 2005, released information on director John Twiss, claiming he is the first person without any law enforcement qualifications or credentials to head the USFS — he's a civilian with desk experience and nothing more. In the early 1990s, Congress mandated that the Forest Service law enforcement division be independent of the agency chain-of-command, in order to ensure fair and independent investigations and internal probes. But Twiss signaled that he would see an end to such independency, and according to Ruch would see to it, "that all future Forest Service investigations will be politically vetted."

Lethal Tasers in the hands of untrained federal agents, compounded by the bureaucratic management style of the present director, with the accompanying potential for serious abuse certainly doesn’t bode well for park visitors.

Jeff Ruch of PEER said it best when he opined, "As a result, 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."

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