Local police detail personal safety options

According to the Department of Justice, violent crime in the U.S. has been declining significantly over the last twenty years. In fact, last year, violent crime rates were about half of what they were in 1993.

But the threat of violence still, and always will, remain. So I asked our local law enforcement about how you can best protect yourself from those who wish to do you harm.

The most common methods of self-defense include pepper spray, Tasers, and handguns. Pepper spray is generally considered most effective because of its ease of use and high efficacy rate.

A report from the National Institute of Justice, which is a research branch of the DOJ, found the use of pepper spray in law enforcement reduced the rate of injury to suspects by 70 percent and Tasers reduced injury to both suspects and police officers by 60 percent.

Tasers are also highly effective, but primarily used by law enforcement. A Taser administers about 50,000 volts of electricity, but only 0.0036 amps - and as anyone who knows basic electrical theory can tell you, it's not the volts that kill you - it's the amps. Consequently, Tasers carry a fatality rate of 0.25%.

Police tell me their purpose is not to inflict pain, but rather to subdue a combative suspect.

â??The civilian version of the Taser I think deploys out to 15 feet, and it starts a 30-second cycle of putting electricity into that person," said Sgt. Brent Barbee of the Amarillo Police Department. "The idea behind that is it allows you to put down that Taser and run, and you have a 30-second head start, which is more than enough to get away from anyone or go get some help.â??

The more extreme option is a concealed handgun. But because a gun has the ability to kill, it carries with it a much greater moral responsibility, and the decision to carry a firearm is not a choice to be taken lightly.

â??Weâ??re all for you taking advantage of any legal means to defend yourself, but with a firearm you have to understand there are a lot of buttons, levers, dials, and switches on a handgun," said Barbee. "So unless youâ??re prepared and willing to go to the trouble to learn how to work whatâ??s essentially a small piece of machinery, then it may not be the best option. The other thing to understand is that we donâ??t advocate you carry a firearm unless youâ??ve made the decision that youâ??re capable of taking another personâ??s life to defend your own.â??
But no matter which option you choose, police say one of the most common mistakes people make is keeping a weapon in your purse or somewhere else where it's not immediately accessible. Instead, make sure it's at hand in a situation in which you think you might need it, like walking across a dark parking lot.

â??If itâ??s not in your hand when the problem starts, itâ??s not going to be useful," said Barbee. "Itâ??s not going to be useful under the front seat of your car; itâ??s not going to be useful in the purse. More often than not, the purse is actually the object of the crime, and so the purse gets stolen, and then youâ??re relieved of your way of defending yourself.â??

If you'd like to see the NIJ Annual Report or the Bureau of Justice Statistics Report on Criminal Victimization in the U.S., follow the links attached to this story.