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Topsham police get OK to use Tasers

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Topsham police get OK to use Tasers

TOPSHAM — The holsters of Topsham Police Department officers will soon be equipped with Tasers.

The department is purchasing three Tasers and will be reimbursed by a nearly $4,200 grant from the Maine Department of Public Safety.

The money, which comes through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act and was approved by the Board of Selectmen Aug. 6, will pay for three Tasers, three holsters, all the training cartridges and training itself, as well as the actual Taser cartridges.

Taser International provides the training, Police Chief Tim Young said, also pointing out that Lt. Chris Lewis is a certified Taser trainer.

"We actually have a couple of people on the department that are currently already certified to use a Taser, so what we need to do is get everybody else trained," Young said.

While it is not a requirement for officers undergoing training to experience being shot with a Taser, Young said, everybody he knows who has been trained has allowed themselves to undergo the electrifying experience.

Young said that policies and procedures for Taser usage must be established as part of the Taser implementation program. For instance, a report will have to be written every time a Taser leaves its holster, even if it is not discharged.

"I've been a big supporter of this, and I think it's a powerful tool," said Selectman Steve Edmondson, who spent more than 25 years in the Police Department.

Edmondson said sometimes just the presence of the Taser can address a situation without the device having to be discharged.

While discussion in Topsham was relatively brief, Tasers have faced greater scrutiny in other Maine communities.

In 2007, a federal jury decided that South Portland Police Officer Kevin Gerrish used excessive force when he used a Taser on a drunk driver in 2005. The U.S. District Court decision awarded plaintiff Stephen Parker $111,000 plus legal fees. While an internal investigation determined Gerrish was justified in using force, the jury found the use of force neither necessary nor reasonable.

Last month, the Portland City Council Public Safety Committee approved the use of 12 Tasers as part of a three-month trial period. The committee approved a policy dictating that officers can use the stun guns on combative or aggressive subjects, but not solely to stop a person from fleeing. A person shot by a Taser must receive immediate medical treatment and, similar to Topsham, Taser usage requires a use-of-force report.

Portland's Tasers will also come with audio and video recording capabilities, and supervisors will be trained in proper Taser use in order to best review results.

Crosswalk decision 

During its Aug. 6 meeting, the Board of Selectmen also approved a crosswalk at the intersection of Middlesex and Tedford roads, as well as spending approximately $150 for crosswalk striping and approximately $125 for signs on either side of the crosswalk to draw it to the attention of drivers. The crosswalk has already been installed.

The board voted 3-2 in June against asking the Maine Department of Transportation to reduce the speed limit on Middlesex Road from 40 mph to 30 mph, as requested by a neighborhood resident concerned about safety. Instead, the board opted to have town staff pursue safety improvements, including a new crosswalk.

There is significant pedestrian traffic along sidewalks on Tedford Road, and Rusty's Grocery nearby on Middlesex Road draws activity, Public Works Director Rob Pontau explained.

"So if a sidewalk was going to be installed, we feel this would be the most useful, as well as the safest, place to install it," he said.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.