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Tase a city official as a 'prize': Is this a smart fundraiser?

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David Brewster/AP via Star Tribune/File

(Read caption) Minneapolis Sgt. Ron Bellendier shows the business end of a Taser stun gun, Oct. 4, 2004, in Minneapolis. A town in Iowa will raffle off the chance to use a Taser on a public official in a stunt to raise money for the local police force.

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City Hall officials in Van Meter, Iowa are approaching a police fundraiser with a twist on the traditional carnival dunk tank: Instead of sitting over a tank of water, a public official will stand on the ground. And instead of a ball, the dunker will toss 50,000 volts of electricity.

In an effort to raise money to expand and equip the town’s police force, Van Meter’s city hall is selling raffle tickets for this month’s Fire Association Street Dance, the Des Moines Register reported. For $5, entrants can win the chance to use a stun gun – with the assistance of a certified officer – on either city administrator Jake Anderson or councilman Bob Lacy.

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Mr. Anderson told the Register the idea began as a joke, but ended with his volunteering to stand on the receiving end of a taser.

"The joke was sort of, 'Yeah, let's tase the administrators. They make all the friends,'" Anderson said. "I was like, 'Yeah, that's funny. Do you think you could raise some money?'"

Mr. Lacy volunteered as well, to take some of the pressure off Anderson. A poster for the event indicated that a vote will decide which of the two will be tased.

Anderson said if he is chosen, this will be the first time he has ever been tased. "I imagine it will hurt,” he told the Des Moines Register.

Police chief Bill Daggart told the Register safety was not an issue, and that stun guns are only dangerous when the victim has underlying medical problems or is in shock, or when the prongs strike over the heart.

"Most officers will tell you they'd much rather be tased than pepper sprayed,” Mr. Daggart said. “The effects are so short, and it doesn't burn.”

William Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, says in a phone interview that offering the chance to use a Taser on a public official as raffle prize was not worrying to him, and called it a “clever” way to raise money.

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“I’m not an expert on safety and I don’t know how painful it would be or wouldn’t be, but it certainly sounds creative and innovative,” he says.

Studies on the effects of tasers vary, according to PoliceOne.com, indicating that they may be either less or more dangerous than Daggart suggested.

A Wake Forest University School of Medicine study found “no evidence of cardiac complications” resulting from Taser use, even when the weapon was applied directly across the chest.

A smaller, more harshly critiqued study by heart specialist Dr. Douglas Zipes indicated that Tasers can cause irregular heartbeat that could potentially cause the heart to stop.

Amnesty International reported in 2013 that since 2001, Tasers have been named as a contributing factor in more than 60 deaths.

With increased national scrutiny on the use of excessive force by police, the idea of letting a citizen use a Taser as a raffle prize may set off alarms. However, Mr. Johnson says that as long as the officials being stunned were willing volunteers, he was not concerned.

“This is just my opinion but ... it’s a fundraiser, it’s kind of a clever way to do something,” he said. “Personally, I wouldn’t read too much into it.”