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. The U.S. Forest Service has bought $600,000 worth of “Electronic Control Devices” without any training program, rules for use or even a written explanation as to why the devices are needed, according to agency records posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The devices, known as Tasers, are sitting in storage and cannot be issued because the agency has yet to develop a training course.
Due to an intense fire season, the Forest Service is now staggering under a more than a quarter-billion dollar deficit, causing it to begin jettisoning core programs. For example, the agency lacks enough funds to draw up new timber sales. At the same time, the Forest Service law enforcement program is hobbled by more than 200 vacant positions, leaving only one officer to cover each 300,000 acres of National Forest and 750,000 annual million visitors.
In late September 2007, the Forest Service purchased 700 weapons and “related accessories” from Aardvark Tactical, Inc. of Azusa, California, a subsidiary of Taser International, at a cost to taxpayers of $600,001.52, according to agency records obtained by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act. This represents enough to equip every single Forest Service special agent and law enforcement officer with an Electronic Control system at a cost of $857 apiece.
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."