BENNINGTON — The Bennington Police Chief has offered to let himself be "Tased," in order to inform the Select Board about the use of "electronic control devices" he wishes to see purchased for the department.
While not officially part of the 2017 fiscal year's budget, the Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette has requested the board allocate $27,000 for the purchase of 13 electronic control devices, commonly called "Tasers" after a popular brand name. This would equip half of the department's officers.
"I'm the only one left who has been through electronic control device training. And I'm sincere when I tell you that I'd be willing to have a master Taser instructor from up north come down and demo this for you," Doucette said. "I would be willing to take the tase and show you what it involves. The first time I did it was the longest five seconds of my life, but the end result is compliance, placed in wrist restraints with no significant injury."
He made the offer Saturday at a budget work session where the police, fire, and highway departments were discussed. The board will meet Jan. 16 at 8 a.m. in the Town Office conference room to finish the budget so it can go before voters for approval. No votes or decisions were made Saturday.
Doucette said that over the past year, two officers have sustained hand injuries while taking people into custody. One was out of work for five months. Insurance covers two thirds of their lost time, but they have to use sick days for the rest, this on top of other officers covering their shifts and increasing overtime expenses.
He said people are more inclined to physically resist police these days than they have been in the past. Other methods of gaining a person's compliance when they fight have drawbacks. Pepper spray, for example, requires clean-up and medical intervention, while hand or baton strikes risk injury for both the officer and the subject.
State Police already carry the devices and have assisted Bennington Police with them on occasion. Doucette said all police departments in the state are required to have electronic control device policies regardless of whether or not they have them.
The board discussed possibly buying fewer devices to begin with. Doucette said there should be enough so all shifts have them. He said he was not in favor of officers sharing them for the same reason they do not share their radios or duty pistols, that being each officer is responsible for upkeep on the devices so they can be assured they work when expected.
He also spoke about the department getting a dog. He said he feels the start-up cost, about $6,000, could be obtained via donations. Many in the community, including a child who received a few hundred dollars as a Christmas present, have donated, he said.
Right now, Bennington Police rely on other agencies when they need a dog to investigate drug crimes or find missing people. He said given that Bennington Police is the fifth largest police agency in Vermont, it seems appropriate it have a dog.
The overall police budget is up less than 1 percent over last year, in large part because of $100,000 saved by switching insurance plans, and also because several older officers retired and were replaced by younger people lower on the pay scale.
During the Fire Department budget presentation, Bennington Fire Chief Jeff Vickers said that while payments on the Bennington Fire Facility are ending, the town should begin saving for a new ladder truck. There is currently $269,000 in the equipment fund, but ladder trucks run at about $800,000 to $1 million.
It was also requested that the board put $10,000 into a savings fund to ultimately purchase a new communications console at the fire facility. The current one is antiquated and no longer supported by the industry. It serves as a backup for the console at the Bennington Police Department, which manages communications throughout the county.
Vickers said the department has also taken a look at many smaller line items it has traditionally budgeted for, such as food for personnel fighting lengthy fires, but has not been used much in recent years.
During the Highway Department budget presentation, Bennington Highway Superintendent R.J. Joly said the board should begin thinking about the department's building situation, not for this year, but for the coming years. Currently the facilities are substandard and have been getting deferred maintenance for years. The town's sand piles are not under cover, as is some of the highway equipment which shares space with other department building's when possible.
The budget also contemplates replacing the traffic signal system at the Four Corners with a "photo-eye system" like the one on Northside Drive. Joly said the one at the Four Corners right now shuts down the entire intersection when someone wants to walk across, and traffic has to wait for the lights to make a complete cycle.
While the highway budget is up 7.98 percent, its effect on the tax rate is down a cent and a half because of grant revenue and a reallocation of payment in lieu of taxes funds (PILOT) which it gets from non-taxable public lands.