The Honolulu Police Department is trying to equip all patrol officers with Tasers. At about $2,000 a piece, it's a long-term goal. In the last decade,HPD has been able to purchase 800, still 500 short.
"The police like everybody else wants to use the least violent means necessary of dealing with somebody," says mental health victims advocate Marya Grambs.
Grambs cites a recent case involving a Maui teenager, who was suffering from mental illness. The teen apparently tried to commit suicide by cop, pointing a finger like a gun at several Maui police officers outside the station.
One officer, realizing it wasn't a real gun, used his Taser to get the teen to the ground. Grambs says that split second decision by the officer saved the teen's life.
Grambs hopes HPD can reach its goal of providing every patrol officer with a Taser sooner rather than later.
The department budgets $200,000 every year to purchase new devices and replace any damaged ones. The Honolulu Police Community Foundation, a non-profit that depends on donations from citizens, supplements that with another $25,000.
"We provide the money and the department then buys the Tasers," says Foundation President and former HPD Chief Lee Donahue, "Over the years we've provided over 200." When Donahue was chief, he says less lethal alternatives were a priority to him. He says an electric stun gun helps both police officers and the public. They are also ideal because they're small enough to be worn unlike other weapons, like the pepper ball gun.
"We don't walk around with it everyday, unless the situation calls for it, then they'd bring out the pepper ball gun," says Tenari Maafala, President of SHOPO, the police union. "The Taser is obviously immediately on you."
While the Tasers have been blamed in some deaths, community advocates say, it's still better than the often fatal alternative.