BARRE — City councilors agreed this week to upgrade the stun guns carried, but rarely used, by their police officers, and to enter into an agreement with Taser International to automatically replace all of the weapons in five years.
Acting on the recommendation of Chief Tim Bombardier, councilors unanimously agreed to buy a more advanced version of the Tasers they purchased for police with a federal grant just four years ago.
Since that time Bombardier told councilors his officers have collectively fired their Tasers a total of seven times — twice deploying them on people with mental illnesses and sparking one lawsuit that he said still is pending.
Though the Taser was “ineffective” in one instance, Bombardier said they have generally worked as advertised and have an unquantifiable deterrent effect.
According to Bombardier, the “don’t-mess-with-him-he’s-got-a-Taser” mentality exists, and the mere presence of the weapons on his officers’ duty belts probably prevents physical altercations that could result in injuries to the officer, the accused, or both.
“There’s really not a way to put a number on the deterrent factor, but it’s there,” he said, noting that’s why he bought the bright yellow version of the weapons instead of the less obtrusive black ones.
Bombardier did not say how many times officers have unholstered their Tasers but, he said, they have only actually been used on the seven occasions.
According to Bombardier, Tasers have successfully been used to subdue four “combative individuals” and a fifth who was “higher than a kite” and displaying what he characterized as “assaultive” behavior.
They were also used twice in 2010 on residents with mental health issues.
On one of those occasions the weapon was less-than-effective, prompting an officer to repeatedly use its drive stun ability to subdue a 58-year-old homeless woman who, he claimed, stubbornly refused to place her hands behind her back so that she could be handcuffed and taken into custody for refusing to leave the parking lot of local convenience store.
The other incident occurred several months later when police were asked to check on the welfare of a 39-year-old Summer Street man that they claimed threatened to cut his throat with what proved to be an empty hand. Both guns and Tasers were drawn during that incident though criminal charges were tossed out by a judge who, after reviewing the officers’ sworn affidavits, concluded the man had broken no laws.
Asked by Councilor Michael Smith if there have been any “substantive allegations of misuse,” Bombardier said the city is facing one Taser-related lawsuit, but he did not elaborate.
Bombardier said all of his officers have since received special training on how to handle people with mental illnesses and agreed with Smith’s observation that it might be wise to make taking that training a requirement before any new officers are issued Tasers.
Bombardier defended the need to replace equipment that was purchased four years ago next month and urged the council to take advantage of a program that was launched by Taser International last year.
According to Bombardier, three of the city’s Tasers are “out of service,” and several cartridges have cracked – a problem he attributed to where they are worn on some officers’ duty belts.
Bombardier said that problem would be solved by upgrading from the Taser X26 model to the Taser X2. Moreover, he said, because it is an “upgrade” the council would be able to use drug forfeiture funds to finance the unbudgeted purchase of 18 new Tasers for roughly $20,000. That figure reflects a $2,160 credit based on Taser International’s offer to buy back the city’s existing arsenal of electronic control devices for $120 apiece. The credit would drop to $100 per unit on Oct. 1.
Meanwhile, Bombardier suggested the council take advantage of a program that will require the city to make an annual payment of $3,582 — $199 for each of the 18 new stun guns — to Taser International for the next five years. In exchange, he said, the city will receive a no-questions asked five-year warranty, one spare Taser, and a guarantee that all of the electronic control devices will automatically be replaced at no added expense in 2018.
The council approved both requests.
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