Weston police officers will soon be equipped with Tasers, electronic “stun guns” that use an electrical current to temporarily immobilize someone.
After denying a request last month from police Chief John Troxell for a supplemental appropriation to cover the cost of 11 Tasers, the Board of Selectmen at its meeting last Thursday, Oct. 4, voted unanimously to accept private donations that have been made since then to buy the guns.
“I don’t necessarily believe the Police Department should be in a position where they’re looking for funds to get their equipment, but in this case, it was certainly a matter of timing, and I’m glad people stepped forward and donated the funds,” said First Selectman Gayle Weinstein.
Sparked by an incident over the summer in which a violently dangerous man was subdued on the side of the road in Weston by Redding police officers using Tasers, Chief Troxell asked the selectmen in September to consider arming Weston officers with what he described as invaluable tools for public safety because of their “de-escalating effect” in volatile situations.
“I believe that man’s life was saved because the Redding police had Tasers,” Chief Troxell said.
Nearly all police departments in surrounding towns are equipped with Tasers, Chief Troxell said. Only three Weston officers have them, and they, much like handguns, are not something that can be shared.
However, in September, the selectmen agreed there was not an immediate need for Tasers. They suggested the police put the request in next year’s budget.
One couple, Lynne and Jack Dodick, had at that time donated $1,000, the approximate cost of one Taser, but Chief Troxell had been unsuccessful in raising more private funding. Selectman David Muller recommended soliciting more donations.
Last week, Beth Gralnick, vice chairman of the Police Commission, and Sgt. Mike Ferullo, acting in Chief Troxell’s absence, told the selectmen they had received $9,541 more in three separate donations earmarked specifically for Tasers.
“I want to take this opportunity to thank Dallas and Pamela Kersey [$1,000 donation], Sunil and Uma Ippagunta [$8,041] and Brian and Tamara Jaworoski [$500] for their very generous gifts,” Ms. Weinstein said.
After ensuring the donations were made with no conditions attached (other than they be used to purchase Tasers), Selectman Dennis Tracey said he, too, was grateful for the donations. “It’s just terrific. It’s so typical of this town — when you ask for help, help comes. But I also agree we should not be relying on citizen donations to equip our officers,” Mr. Tracey said.
“I couldn’t agree more,” Ms. Gralnick said.
She said she has no moral issues with the Police Department, “but I don’t ever want to be in a situation where there can be a sense of impropriety.” Unfortunately, she continued, with donations such as these, there could be.
Ms. Weinstein said she and the Police Commission did check to make sure there were “no relationships between those who donated and the town, so the donations are given free and clear, without, certainly, looking for any … kind of relationship.”
Ms. Gralnick agreed. “Otherwise, we couldn’t have accepted them,” she said.
Mr. Muller said he agrees that the department shouldn’t have to rely on private funding, but it has precedent in situations like donations made to the public library and the food pantry, as well as past donations to the Police Department. He said he appreciates it and it makes life “financially a little easier for everyone else.”
The selectmen unanimously accepted the donations.
Ms. Gralnick said the money will be used to purchase nine new Tasers “and the accouterments,” such as holsters and cartridges. These will be in addition to the three older Tasers the department already has on hand.
The Police Commission approved a use-of-force policy for Tasers for the Police Department in March 2011. The policy includes a requirement for eight hours of training — four hours in a classroom and four hours of field instruction.
Weston police Officers Travis Arnette and Joe Miceli are certified Taser instructors.