Board: Police  can use Tasers

Select Board chair

  • The Wilton Select Board approved the acquisition of Tasers by the local police force, after hearing from residents and Wilton police officers on Monday night.
  • The Wilton Select Board approved the acquisition of Tasers by the local police force, after hearing from residents and Wilton police officers on Monday night.
  • The Wilton Select Board approved the acquisition of Tasers by the local police force, after hearing from residents and Wilton police officers on Monday night.

WILTON — After more than a month of conversation and research, the Wilton Select Board has voted to approve the use of Tasers for the local police department, in a decision Select Board Chair Dan Donovan referred to as “one of the most difficult and contentious issues” he’s dealt with in his nine years on the board.

Wilton Police Chief Brent Hautanen told the board during its meeting Monday he wants to use funds set aside from drug forfeitures to purchase nine Tasers and holsters — one for each full-time member of the force and two to rotate between the department’s part-time officers. The officers will be trained at the Wilton Police Department. Some training hours will be considered overtime, and other, the written examination aspects of certification will be done during regular duty time, he told the board.

Several Wilton police officers spoke on behalf of the use of Tasers in town. Lt. Eric Oleson told the board that officers have been in situations numerous times in which a Taser would have been helpful. One situation, he said, involved a detained suspect attempting to break the thumb of officer Michael Abel while in a close-quarters holding cell. “None of us feel this is a toy,” said Oleson. “We’re looking to use another tool.”

Part-time patrol officer Gerry Reppucci also advocated for Tasers. He pointed out that the town of Wilton issues police officers a handgun and rifles, an extendable baton and pepper spray. If the town trusts the policies in place and the judgment of its officers to use those tools, it should trust them with Tasers, he said. He also felt a suspect that required force to be subdued would be less likely to be injured by a Taser than being hit with a baton or a closed fist.

Also, Reppucci pointed out, denying Tasers to Wilton officers does not mean a Taser will never be deployed in Wilton. Both of the towns most likely to respond to a request for police mutual aid — Lyndeborough and Milford — have Tasers, he said, and will deploy them if the situation calls for it. “When those officers come to Wilton, do they have to leave their Tasers in the car?” Reppucci asked.

Resident Mark Hastings, who is an assistant with Southern New Hampshire Medical Center, said in the time he has been employed, he’s never seen any patients who required emergency care because of a Taser. Wilton Ambulance Chief Gary Zippolo added that since 2006, he’s also never had to respond to an incident because of a Tasing.

“We have to have faith in our police department and the training of our police department,” said Zippolo. “I’ve been at least twice in the past 18 months where a police officer was hurt, where they might not have been hurt or hurt less if they had a Taser. I have a problem with that.”

Resident Curt Guild agreed. “The police need our support and are here asking for it. I think we should give it to them,” he said.

“We’re sending these guys out late at night when we’re warm and toasty at home,” added resident Jim Fisher. “We should give them the tools to do the job.”

Donovan said safety concerns ultimately made it impossible for him to support the use of Tasers. One study he had examined advised against using Tasers on the very young, elderly, pregnant women, those who are very thin and anyone under the influence of alcohol and drugs. The study also warned against using Tasers on suspects who are fleeing due to the possibility of injury from a fall after being hit.

Hautanen said other studies did not take the same view on Tasing those under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and indeed, that can be where Tasers are the most useful. While high or intoxicated suspects might not register the pain of a baton or a fist, a Tasing creates an involuntary contraction of the muscles. He did agree that Tasing a child, pregnant woman or an elderly person wouldn’t be appropriate unless it was a situation where deadly force would be appropriate. Hautanen said he would be working with protocols used by other law enforcement agencies, and endorsed by the Local Government Center. Donovan asked if Hautanen would be willing to work with the board to create a set of protocols for Wilton.

Select Board member Rick Swanson said that his research and speaking with Hautanen had convinced him that with proper training and a strict policy detailing their use, Tasers could be an asset. “I think the comments by the officers and the public were forceful,” he said. He added that he also found it telling that no detractors of Tasers had spoken at the meeting. “I had an idea there was a faction in town that was against the use of Tasers, but those people didn’t show up.”

The board ultimately voted 2-1 to approve the acquisition and use of Tasers by the Wilton Police Department, with Donovan voting against. Hautanen said in an interview Wednesday he was satisfied with the outcome, and was gratified that the public had spoke in support of the department. The police department should be outfitted with and trained in the use of Tasers by the end of December at the latest, he said.

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