(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of two stories regarding the Thursday, June 28, meeting of the Williamson City Council.)
WILLIAMSON — The Williamson Police Department received permission from the city to update its use of force policy and to be trained in carrying and using tasers.
Williamson Chief of Police C.D. Rockel spoke to the council Thursday of his desire to introduce the device to his police force, making the WPD the only agency with tasers.
“I believe we need to change our policy on use of force,” Rockel said to the council, handing copies of a letter and statistics to each councilmember present. “Right now, we have officer presence; then hands-on; then chemical agents (pepper spray, for example); asp batons; and then deadly force.”
Rockel said that, with the use of a taser, it gives the WPD another alternative of less-than-lethal force.
“With chemical sprays, it doesn’t always stop people who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol,” Rockel said. “And batons are often associated with police brutality.”
Rockel described the device, which the Mingo County Commission has already agreed to pay for one and for the necessary training, to the council, saying that it fires two projectile probes that cause muscle contractions, causing a person to lose all control, thus allowing one person to handle a suspect “instead of five or six people and a dog.”
“Tasers are used in 40 countries with 400,000 law enforcement officers in 14,000 law enforcement agencies carrying the devices, Rockel said. “and we would probably save on liability insurance as it reduces the risk of injury to both the individual and the police officer.
“It’s actually a lot safer,” Rockel said. “It’s around one-tenth of a strong static shock. It may be a lot of volts, but it’s the amps that will kill you. A single Christmas light, for example, has 1 amp. This device has one-twelve-thousandth of an amp.
“No deaths have been reported from this device and it’s been on the market for 15 years.”
A brief discussion after Rockel’s presentation between the chief and the council took place, with the main question being: Will everyone be trained in using the device?
“Yes,” Rockel said. “Everyone is going to be certified to use it, but only one officer will carry it with him on a shift.”
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the taser device that Rockel is looking into getting is the fact that it also records video.
“If you point it at someone and flip off the safety, it begins recording with audio,” Rockel said. “It shows that we are justified in using it and can use the evidence in court.
“A total of 96.2 percent of officers have been exonerated with this device.”
On July 14, all eight officers with the WPD will leave for training, an eight-hour course that will cost a total of $200 and will feature each officer being zapped by the taser they are being trained to carry.
The West Virginia State Police and Mingo County Sheriff’s Department have agreed to watch the city that day.
The Williamson City Council voted unanimously to accept the resolution to the WPD’s use of force policy, with Councilwoman Connie Rockel abstaining.
Rockel said he “graciously thanks the MCC in their support, as well as private citizens who have agreed to pitch in to buy two other devices.”
Between the MCC and the private citizens, the WPD will have a total of three tasers on its force.
“I thank the MCC for their support, the chief in pursuing this and the public in helping with the acquisitions,” Mayor Darrin McCormick said. “I think it’s a step in the right direction.”
When asked if he was looking forward to being zapped by a taser at the training, Rockel simply replied:
“No, I am not.”