Board should decide on Tasers
To their credit, members of Wilton’s Select Board are being thorough and methodical as they mull the question of whether to add Tasers to the tool belts of the town’s police officers.
Last week they held a second discussion on the pros and cons of the devices, which use a brief electrical current to cause a contraction that disrupts muscle control, giving a police officer time to subdue a suspect who is resisting arrest. At a meeting in late July, they heard from Hinsdale Police Chief Todd Faulkner, a Taser instructor who described how Tasers work and noted that in his department, the number of injuries to both officers and suspects has dropped since Tasers were added in 2002.
Board members are planning to meet individually with Wilton Police Chief Brent Hautanen, who wants his officers to have Tasers. At the same meeting where Faulkner spoke, Hautanen told the board that two officers have been injured in the past year while trying to subdue suspects who may have been on drugs. Hautanen said batons and pepper spray may not be effective in those situations, because suspects may not be aware of the pain they are experiencing. That seems to have been the case back in March in Peterborough, where an apparently intoxicated man being treated by ambulance workers after a car accident actually leapt up and ran off when police officers started to question him, leading the two officers to chase him down and use a Taser three times in order to subdue him.
The Wilton board members are still doing their research and haven’t reached a conclusion. The recent death of a Florida teen who was allegedly spray painting graffiti on a vacant building and died after being tased when he ran from police was cited by the board as an example of inappropriate police use of a Taser. Selectman Bill Condra said Tasers should be a last resort, not used to stop a fleeing suspect. Board members obviously still have doubts.
But at the most recent board meeting, Chair Dan Donovan suggested that the question might best be answered by voters at Town Meeting. That seems like an unnecessary and perhaps divisive step. This is a case where the board should make the decision.
Yes, people have died after being tased. Perhaps police have been too aggressive in some cases. But it’s hard to argue that an officer shouldn’t be carrying a Taser when the officer is already carrying a gun, which has far more potential to lead to a fatality.
If the Wilton board members want feedback, they should invite the public to come to a meeting to discuss the issue. Then they should weigh that input along with the recommendations of the professionals they have already consulted, including their police chief.
We’re confident they can make a decision on this issue — one that’s already been resolved by many of their neighboring communities — without having to turn it into a contentious topic for Town Meeting.