Taser Use Rare in South Burlington

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Thursday December 05, 2013

Last year, after taser use by police officers in another town was publicized in the Vermont media, the South Burlington City Council inquired about the policy being used by the South Burlington Police Department. At the December 2 City Council meeting, Police Chief Trevor Whipple was on hand to give a detailed overview. The good news?  Taser use by SBPD remains low.

One of the primary reasons for this statistic, according to Chief Whipple, is that officers don’t have the need for the weapon’s deployment. For the most part, in South Burlington, verbal commands and other methods have been routinely effective. Although, the Vermont Police Academy is charged with developing a single training plan for the state, currently each municipality has their own policy.

One unique aspect of South Burlington’s policy is Chief Whipple’s requirement that the 39 individuals who have been trained in the use of tasers must each personally go through the experience of being tased . The exercise is designed for the officers to better understand what would be experienced by another human being should they need to deploy the weapon. 

Not all departments do this, but Whipple feels it is very important. “I very much support the tool and its appropriate use,” Whipple said, “But if the weapon is being drawn, that means there is some kind of threat before an officer that needs to stop right now.” 

Used  to  subdue fleeing, belligerent, or potentially dangerous people, tasers are non-lethal, electroshock weapons which utilize electrical current to disrupt voluntary control of muscles, causing neuromuscular incapacitation. 

Officers undergo annual retraining in the use of tasers. This month, they will have two, half day refresher courses since the policies and protocols are constantly evolving. For example, in 2009, a change was implemented that recommended aiming at the back or lower extremities instead of in the chest area. In addition, nine months ago, officers were trained in utilizing effective strategies to better communicate with people who may be having mental challenges. 

South Burlington Police Officers have been equipped with tasers since 2004. Since September 2006, when Chief Whipple began his position, the department has not received any formal complaints on taser use. Of the 631 arrests made this year to date , a taser has only been fully deployed twice.   In two other cases, a ‘drive stun’ has taken place. ‘Drive stun mode’ uses direct contact of the top of the taser to the body or clothing of a person, causing discomfort. This mode does not significantly affect the central nervous system,does not immobilize a person, and can be used in a situation such as hand cuffing when an individual may be stronger than the officer and he/she needs to contract an arm muscle to facilitate the process. Merely displaying the taser is often enough to bring a situation under control; this has occurred twice in the past year.

Whipple said that the track record of the police department is a testament to both the citizenry and his staff. Whipple said, “We pride ourselves on our ability to negotiate with people and I have faith that our officers use their tools in the order that is prescribed.”

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent