Winooski police were the first in Vermont to use stun guns.
"We went to the device in 1991 to reduce officer injury, which it has successfully done. We don't fight with people. People don't get hurt. We don't get hurt," Winooski Police Chief Steve McQueen said.
But in Thetford this summer, a man died after being Tased in the chest by a senior state trooper. Macadam Mason's death prompted 30 lawmakers to co-sponsor a bill restricting law enforcement's stun gun use to life-threatening situations.
"I think that's very dangerous to start dictating how I will use a device that available to me," McQueen said. "It would be no different than telling a firefighter, by statute, how they're going to fight that chimney fire, not that they need to be trained to fight the chimney fire, but how they will fight that fire."
McQueen says if lawmakers start taking away police tools, more officers and suspects will be injured as departments are forced to use pepper spray, batons and firearms to de-escalate situations.
"If we have to use the same criteria to using deadly force before we would deploy a Taser, why bother with the Taser... is essentially what's going to happen. We're not going to use it. We're going to put them in boxes and we're going to send them back," McQueen said.
Police say when used correctly, these electronic control devices are less than lethal. In Burlington, officers are required to undergo yearly recertification. But that's a departmental policy. The chief says while he has reservations about the bill, he supports statewide standards for training and use.
"It creates predictability in terms of how officers at a particular scene from different organizations are going to respond given the same circumstances, also creates predictability for the public that it's clear that organizations are all subscribing to the same standard," Burlington Police Chief Mike Schirling said.
"I have no problem with the development of a statewide policy as long as it is a floor, not a ceiling, that if an individual municipality or department can go beyond the statewide standard, then I would be fine with that," said Bill Sorrell, D-Vt. Attorney General.
Schirling says his officers are trained to only deploy Tasers when suspects are actively resisting. And it doesn't happen very often. Out of the roughly 33,000 incidents Burlington police responded to last year, only 73 involved Tasers. In 50 percent of those cases, the Taser was only displayed. Tasers were discharged 11 times in close contact and 25 times from a distance.
We also reached out to Vermont state police. A spokesperson said the Department of Public Safety is currently reviewing language in the proposed bill, but they're not prepared to offer a statement at this time.
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