Valley Falls officers to be armed with Tasers
by Clarke Davis
Police department requests for Tasers and backseat cages for the patrol cars were center stage when the Valley Falls City Council met June 6.
Twice in the past three months city officers have been assaulted and the council was told a Taser is one of the best deterrents in trying to apprehend someone.
Equipping the department with three Tasers will cost $3,404. The purchase and installation of a cage in one car will be $578. In addition, the council approved three micro digital cameras to be worn on the front of the officer’s uniform to record such incidents at a cost of $100 each.
Police Chief Josh Pence, who experienced being hit by a Taser in his early police training, said it’s just another show of force to get someone to back down and be compliant.
“It’s those few hard-headed ones,” he said, “who are usually alcohol fueled and in a rage that need to be brought under control.”
The officer will also be armed with a gun, pepper spray, and a baton and, Pence said, each has its place.
The police chief told the council that numerous studies have proven the Taser to be safe and outweighs the risks of other types of force. He noted that while deaths have occurred in a small number of incidents, other health problems or circumstances came into play.
“They have proven to reduce injury to both officer and assailant,” he said.
The additional need for Tasers locally is because of the lack of backup. Pence said it takes 15 minutes or longer for another law officer on duty in Jefferson County to reach the city to provide assistance.
“That’s a long time to protect your gun, yourself, and others involved until help arrives,” he said.
The council was informed that the sheriff’s officers and highway patrolmen are all armed with Tasers. They can also be used on mean dogs.
In a recent drunk and disorderly case, Pence wound up in a wrestling match after the person decided he did not want to go to jail. Once cuffed and under arrest the person was placed in the front passenger seat to be taken to jail in Oskaloosa, but en route the person attempted to head butt the officer who was trying to control the car.
“He waited until we were approaching an 18-wheeler,” he said.
Pence said he was able to pin the guy down with one arm and drive with the other until they arrived at the jail. The police chief wound up with an injured knee and spent a week off duty.
In the other case, Doug Ashcroft was the officer on duty when he got a call about a fight. Alcohol was involved and one person got aggressive with the officer. Other officers arrived for backup, but a county car with a cage had to be dispatched to haul the person arrested because of his aggresive behavior that included spitting at the officer.
“Things like this don’t happen everyday and they will happen even less often if we have the tools to work with,” Pence said. “These tools will make it safer so we can go home at night.”
Gordon Bledsoe, former chief of police, attended the meeting and advised the council to provide their officers with the new equipment.
“Times have changed,” he said and joked that the days of duct tape and rope are gone.
The council members have been handed a portion of the police department’s manual dealing with “authorized defensive actions” for their study and future adoption. The section runs about 20 pages and Tasers—referred to as Conducted Energy Devices—are prominently addressed.
The decision to activate a CED is based on these criteria:
1) Would it prevent an escalation of violence? 2) Would it minimize injury to the officer, subject, or other people? 3) Is the subject standing where he would not be injured from a fall? 4) Is the subject in an “at risk” category? and 5) Is the subject physically challenging to the officer?
The manual addresses when a CED must not be used:
1) A handcuffed person. 2) A pregnant woman. 3) Elderly people, young children, or the visibly frail. 4) A subject in a location where a fall would cause substantial injury or death. 5. Suspects in control of a motor vehicle in motion or other conveyance such as a scooter or all-terrain vehicle.
Mayor Charles Stutesman presided and encouraged plenty of debate before calling for a decision on these police matters. Approving them were Mike Hahn, Jo Tichenor, Lucy Thomas, and Shawn Jepson. Todd Harrington was absent.
In other business, the council approved disposal of old street signs, mostly stop and yield. The salvage value is $2.16 each and since a couple of council members wanted to purchase some, the remainder will be open to the public to purchase at the same price. Interested parties can call city hall.
The council’s next regular meeting is June 20. The July meetings will be held on the 11th and 18th, the first one delayed a week because of the July 4 holiday. Next year’s budget will be a main topic in July.
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