After hearing a presentation by the Weston Police Commission and Weston Police Department, the Board of Selectmen declined to take action Thursday on a supplemental appropriation request of $11,041.35 to purchase Tasers for the town’s police officers.
The lack of action means the department will have to find another way to fund the purchase of Tasers, or put the request in next year’s budget.
Sparked by a recent public safety incident on Newtown Turnpike, the Police Commission had voted unanimously on Tuesday, Sept. 4, to request the supplemental appropriation, which would have come from the town’s general fund.
Weston Police Chief John Troxell told the selectmen on Thursday, Sept. 6, that Tasers were not included in the department’s operating budget this year because he was trying to secure private funding and donations to cover their cost, and was trying to keep his budget request down.
The Police Commission approved a use of force policy for Tasers for the department last April.
While the chief was unsuccessful in getting full donations for the cost of the 11 Tasers he wanted, he did receive a $1,000 donation from residents Lynne and Jack Dodick, which the selectmen voted to approve. That will cover the purchase of one Taser.
The department also has three other Tasers on hand, but that is not enough to equip each officer. Chief Troxell said he would like to replace two of those Tasers because they are seven years old and black colored. He would also like all the department’s Tasers to be yellow so they clearly stand out as Tasers and not guns.
Office Joe Miceli showed the selectmen a video clip of an incident that happened recently on Newtown Turnpike in Weston that involved the use of Tasers by the Redding Police Department.
The video showed the apprehension of a Bridgeport motorist who Weston police were pursuing on Newtown Turnpike, towards Redding, after he backed up and rammed into two motor vehicles. While Weston police were handling those calls, Redding police responded via mutual aid and confronted the motorist near Valley Forge Road.
At the point, the suspect put his car into reverse and rammed into a Redding cruiser, which was later deemed totaled. He then started acting violently, got out of his car, and ran into the woods. Bystanders, including families with children, stopped along the side of the road to watch.
The suspect emerged from the woods and with his bare fist punched out the window of a second Redding cruiser. Redding officers were eventually able to subdue the man and take him into custody by repeatedly Tasering him.
“Had the police not had the Tasers, that scenario could have been much more violent and it could have had a potentially deadly outcome,” Officer Miceli said.
“This is a good example of a public safety issue. It could have been a tragic situation. I believe that man’s life was saved because the Redding police had Tasers,” Chief Troxell said.
Officer Miceli said the use of Tasers is important for the safety of officers as well as the safety of the people they serve.
Police Commissioner Beth Gralnick agreed and said Tasers were another tool for the police before lethal force was necessary.
Although there was a time when Tasers were a fairly new tool for police departments, their use has become more widespread. Officer Miceli said the police academy now requires Taser training for all new officers, and all surrounding towns, except for Weston, provide their officers with Tasers.
The selectmen said they appreciated the presentation, however, they thought Newtown Turnpike might have been an isolated incident.
Chief Troxell countered that there are violent situations in Weston, especially involving domestic disputes, which are not well-publicized.
Ms. Weinstein said she wasn’t sure the request was proper for a special appropriation. She said Tasers are controversial and she didn’t want to approve their purchase until the public had a chance to weigh in and discuss them.
Chief Troxell asked what the criteria was for special appropriations and Ms. Weinstein said it was her opinion as to what would be appropriate.
Selectman David Muller recommended soliciting more donations to purchase the remaining Tasers for the department.
All the selectmen said the request should have been included in the police department’s budget request.
Following the selectmen’s meeting, Chief Troxell said that while he respected the board’s decision, he disagreed that the purchase of Tasers did not qualify as a special appropriation.
“There is a process and I do understand that. Not everyone will agree all the time. I’ll discuss it with the Police Commission and we’ll decide about putting it in next year’s budget,” he said.
Police Commission Chairman Rick Phillips issued the following response in an email:
“I am disappointed but I understand given where we are in the budget cycle. Unfortunately, we had originally approved their [Tasers] acquisition and associated training after the current budget had already been cast so it was too late to include them. We and the chief had hoped that we would be able to secure private funding for the purchase, as we had for rifles. We did get $1,000 toward that end, but it hasn’t been sufficient to equip all the officers. It is still my hope that we will be able to identify some private sources of funds and recent events have pointed out the department’s need for the tools so perhaps that will be good PR for more donations. One thing I will point out is that, even though it is early in the fiscal year, the PD is well behind its budgeted overtime expense thanks to a full complement of officers so if that trend continues there may be room for a second request later in the year. If we can’t get to where we need to be from an appropriation or private sources, however, we will definitely include the purchase request in the next budget cycle.”
Other supplemental appropriations approved by the selectmen this year include $22,650 at the same meeting on Thursday, for tree removal on Old Mill Road, a 2011-12 fiscal year-end appropriation in June of $650,000: $100,000 for OPEB (other post employment benefits), $300,000 for bridge repair, and $250,000 for a school window and door replacement project.
In January, the selectmen approved a supplemental appropriation of $17,500 for the purchase of software for the building inspector’s office.
In February, the selectmen approved a supplemental appropriation of $68,365 for self-contained breathing apparatus oxygen tanks and harnesses for the Weston Volunteer Fire Department. That same month, the board approved a $35,000 special appropriation for a global settlement with former employee, Oriana “Libby” Rende.