By Brandi Makuski
They say it takes true pain or intense fear before you can know a person’s true character.
For weeks now, this reporter has participated in the Citizens Academy, a 12-week course offering a glimpse into the world of law enforcement, dispatch, EMTs and firefighters. Every Wednesday night, about 20 local residents — including regular citizens, members of the city council and county board, and three local news reporters — have been getting a hands-on taste of what a local civil servant’s day is like.
Through my work I already had a familiarity with how many of these professions functioned “behind the scenes”, but my sole purpose in joining the class was to improve my skills as a reporter. I’d never intended to write about it — I’m loathe to think a news reporter should actually “be” news — but following my time on the business side of a taser, it was time to share the experience.
First, a disclaimer: this was only my personal experience. It should be noted the taser exercise is strictly voluntary, as are most of the hands-on exercises in this class. But the course itself is incredibly valuable, and I highly recommend anyone 18 years of age or older, regardless of your background or life experience, participate as they are able.
The Oct. 19 class was different from its start, as tables and chairs had been re-arraigned to face a thick exercise mat in our classroom at the Law Enforcement Center. We all knew this was “taser night” but weren’t sure exactly how events would unfold, so the class was filled with nervous giggles.
I attempted to appear calm and stoic as Det. Kent Lepak and Sgt. John Moss from SPPD, along with Det. Mike Tracy from Plover PD, began the class with a demonstration of several defense and arrest tactics (known as DAAT). That was followed by a visit from Deputy John White and his K-9 partner Lady, and I was somewhat relieved for the distraction of watching a classmate who volunteered to be attacked by the dog (while wearing protective gear).
As we returned to the classroom, I noticed several other officers had gathered in the back of the room for what they called “the show”, and by then my heart was pounding and my hands had become clammy.
Weeks before, I’d already volunteered — much to officers’ delight — to take what’s known as a “full ride”: five seconds of electroshock via inch-long taser darts, the same as an officer would use on the streets to subdue an uncooperative and dangerous suspect. After all, I’d endured 21 hours of labor with my second child — so what was a measly five seconds?
Another option for the brave volunteers on Wednesday were the alligator clips — metal clips attached to clothing, which produces a somewhat less-intense, but still quite uncomfortable effect and used only in training. A few of my classmates volunteered to take one second of the taser shock via these clips, and based on their reactions, I immediately had serious doubts about my decision to take that “full ride” with the darts. Indeed, two of my classmates backed out at the last minute.
Based on the contorted facial expressions of those who did undergo the ordeal, I don’t blame them at all.
Officers whom I worked with regularly had teased me for weeks about my impending taser experience, and decided they would save me for last that evening. Over a solid 25 minutes, I watched with exhausting anxiety as about half a dozen individuals endured the shock and cried out in pain. Three men in the class volunteered to take the darts before it was my turn: the sight of grown, ostensibly tough men being rendered helpless and yelling “stop, stop, stop,” then watching as officers lifted each man’s shirt to remove the darts embedded in their skin and administer first aid, was nothing short of agonizing.
As I stood on that mat, with detectives Lepak and Tracy holding my arms, I cracked a few nervous jokes about keeping my hair nice and made some reference to the Stephen King film Misery. I took a deep breath and attempted to utilize a meditation technique just as Sgt. Moss called out “taser, taser, taser”, deploying the two darts and .0036 amps of electricity into my back.
What I experienced can’t be described as pain, but it was the single most intense sensation of discomfort I’d ever experienced. For a few fleeting moments, I don’t recall having any clear thoughts or awareness of where I was, nor any control over my body. I was paralyzed — my legs gave way and my back muscles immediately seized, with almost a feeling of being on fire, for what seemed like an eternity. I felt like the Christmas Tree in Chevy Chase’s living room.
Once the taser was turned off, the sensation immediately ceased.
While I have no clear memory of doing so, after reviewing the video of my experience — taken by Plover Police Officer Seth Pionke — I, too, yelled in pain and cried “stop” several times, followed by a four-letter word my mother would stick a bar of soap in my mouth for using.
The following day, my back muscles were sore from where the darts penetrated my skin, but nothing else remained from the night before, except perhaps a slight adrenaline rush for having gone through the experience.
The taser has no respect for age, size or strength. Once it hits you, you’re down for the count. If I ever happen to be in the sights of a taser again, I’d be hard-pressed to not comply with anything an officer asks of me.
At the start of this editorial I wrote that a person’s true character can only be known under the pressure of pain or fear. If that’s true, then perhaps I am a wimp — I only endured two seconds of the taser, not the full five I’d intended — with a dirty mouth.
But at least my hair looked great.