Electric Fences: Good or Bad?

Electric fences are often used to keep livestock in an enclosed area, but they can also be used as a security device. Houston councilmembers are trying to decide whether the fences should be permitted inside city limites. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports.

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The electric fence ordinance was tagged by more than half the councilmembers. But it will come up for vote again next week and between now and then the council must weigh the risks and benefits of electrified fences. Electrician Dale Wortham told councilmembers the fences can seriously injure and even kill humans.

"This device assumes every person is a criminal. It assumes that anybody that touches that fence is breaking in and that may not be the case. It deals the same punishment and that same punishment is going to be tissue damage and possibly death."

The ordinance would require all electric fences be surrounded by a second fence with at least a foot of space between them. So you wouldn't be able to just walk up and touch one. However, it could be feasible for someone to poke an object between the two fences, squeeze between them or even scale the outer fence. Proponants of the ordinance say the current isn't strong enough to be a threat to public safety. Jack DeMao runs a security and electric fence company. He says his product isn't plugged into an electric main, but runs off a 12-volt battery.

"We've touched it, my friends here my customers here have touched it and it is unpleasant, you will want to let go. But we have three 'D's. First of all, we deter the criminal. The sheer presence of the fence makes it a place the criminal does not want to stop into.ξ If they touch it, we discourage them. They will want to let go, it's not something you want to hang onto. And then the last thing, the determined criminal will come through the fence and when they do that, we detect them and we set off the proper alarm systems."

In addition to DeMao, the manager of a freight and shipping company also spoke in favor of the fences. Three electricians were opposed to the ordinance. The various expert viewpoints seemed to leave councilmembers confused on how to proceed. Houston Mayor Bill White says he's naturally suspect of safety claims made by vendors of a product, but he's also hesitant impose too many rules about what citizens can do.

"The administration does tend to have an approach that we should be careful in restricting the ability of citizens to try to protect their person and property. We should be careful about restricting their ability to do that."

The mayor says he's not lobbying for or against the ordinance, but he does want to see consensus one way or the other from a strong majority of council. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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