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Wilton

Police say Tasers safe and  effective

Wilton officials want to weigh implications

  • Select Board members Bill Condra, left, and Rick Swanson, examine examples of Taser guns while listening to a presentation about their use during a Select Board meeting Monday. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Select Board members Bill Condra, left, and Rick Swanson, examine examples of Taser guns while listening to a presentation about their use during a Select Board meeting Monday.

    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Select Board Chair Dan Donovan and Wilton Police Chief Brent Hautanen discuss the pros and cons of issuing Tasers to Wilton police officers during Monday's Select Board meeting.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Select Board Chair Dan Donovan and Wilton Police Chief Brent Hautanen discuss the pros and cons of issuing Tasers to Wilton police officers during Monday's Select Board meeting.

    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Select Board members Bill Condra, left, and Rick Swanson, examine examples of Taser guns while listening to a presentation about their use during a Select Board meeting Monday. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Select Board Chair Dan Donovan and Wilton Police Chief Brent Hautanen discuss the pros and cons of issuing Tasers to Wilton police officers during Monday's Select Board meeting.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

WILTON — The Wilton Select Board will be mulling over the next two weeks the implications of adding Tasers to the collection of tools used by the town’s police force. Members of other area departments that have been using Tasers for a number of years say they have been an effective tool.

Wilton Police Chief Brent Hautanen told the Select Board at its meeting Monday that in the past year, he’s had two significant officer injuries, both stemming from incidents with suspects believed to be on drugs. In those situations, he said, the police force can use their batons and pepper spray, but pain isn’t always an effective deterrent when a suspect is on drugs, because they’re not always aware of the pain they’re experiencing.

Todd Faulkner, the chief of police in Hinsdale, who is also senior master Taser instructor, explained at the meeting that Tasers use a five-second electrical current to cause a muscle contraction which disrupts muscle control, meaning it does not rely on pain to stop a suspect. Since implementing Tasers in his own department in 2002 , he’s seen both officer injuries and suspect injuries go down, he said.

Faulkner said Tasers are extremely safe. The amount of electricity used would need significantly more time to cause harm, he said. The Select Board, however, said they would like to have more information about the issue before approving their use in town.

“I recognize the potential value, but I have concerns,” said Select Board Chair Dan Donovan. “There’s a lot of data, including some by the American College of Cardiologists, which suggests Tasers are not as safe as Taser makes them out to be.”

Donovan pointed out that the U.S. Army recently prohibited the use of Tasers during training sessions. Faulkner noted that Tasers do sometimes lead to injury — the muscle contractions have led to injured muscles, and people with metal prosthetics have experienced conductivity. But there is a possibility of injury during any sort of physical training, Faulkner said.

“It’s not risk-free, but nothing we have is risk-free,” he said. He also added that modern Tasers are capable of data collection, which stores information about each use of the Taser. Should there be any question of excessive force, the information about each deployment is immediately available for review.

If the board decides to approve the use of Tasers by the Police Department, the training regime for the officers would have to be carefully considered, said Select Board member Rick Swanson. “If Wilton does this, we should have the gold standard of training,” he said.

Hautanen said that most area police departments use Tasers, and they are becoming increasingly common equipment among officers. Members of other local departments say the Taser has been an effective addition to their toolset.

Antrim began issuing Tasers to its officers in 2006 under then Chief Todd Feyrer, according to Antrim Police Chief Scott Lester in a phone interview Wednesday. Lester continued issuing them when he took over in 2008, based on his previous experience with them at the Peterborough Police Department. They are an effective tool if used properly, he said, and noted there is a lot of training involved before Taser use. The department has had to use the Tasers in only a handful of incidences since he has taken over the department, Lester noted.

John Giffin, a patrol officer in Bennington, said his department adopted the use of Tasers last year, after Police Chief Steve Campbell was involved with an incident, in which he was on duty alone at 3 a.m. and had to subdue a 300 pound intoxicated man. After he and two citizens spent some time trying to subdue the man, assistance from Hillsborough police arrived and one of its officers deployed a Taser, which ended the confrontation. There have only been a few times in his career when Giffin, who also serves as a part-time officer in Antrim, has had to pull out his Taser, and most of the time when a Taser is pulled the aggressor ceases the confrontation before the trigger is ever pulled, said Giffin.

“It’s very rare that you have to deploy,” said Giffin. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, just pulling it and stating, ‘If you don’t cease, you will be tased,’ is enough. I would recommend [Tasers]. If you go hands on into a confrontation with pepper spray or a baton, you risk injuring the officer and the person you’re trying to detain. With pepper spray, the effects stay with a person a considerable amount of time, and with a baton once you deploy that the risk of injury is there. Ninety-nine percent of the time when you just show the Taser, the action stops, so there’s no contact and no danger to the officer. If you must deploy it, the effects only last for five seconds, and that’s usually enough to get them into handcuffs without further injury.”

Jaffrey Police Chief William Oswalt said in a phone interview Wednesday that he too recommends having Tasers as an option, particularly in smaller towns where officers may not have immediate backup available. “It’s a very effective system that when properly applied has a legitimate place in the police tool belt,” he said. “I believe in them as a very effective, less-than-lethal force option when properly applied, and under the right circumstances.”

The Jaffrey Department has three Tasers, which are rotated among its on-duty officers. Since they were first purchased in 2008, officers have deployed them approximately a dozen times, Oswalt said, usually in situations in which a suspect is resisting arrest in a combative way.

Peterborough Police Chief Scott Guinard said officers in his department have carried Tasers for some time. “They are an effective tool,” Guinard said.

Donovan of the Wilton Select Board said he would like to hear from an opposing point of view before making any decisions. The board voted unanimously to table the discussion until it could research the issue further. The Select Board is scheduled to meet next on Aug. 12 at 6:30 p.m. in the Town Hall.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari. Reporters Lindsey Arceci and Dave Anderson contributed to this report.

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