Colmar Manor police soon will add one more tool to protect themselves and others from noncompliant suspects.
The Town Council unanimously approved the purchase of Tasers on Oct. 9, which will allow the town’s officers to stun suspects and apprehend them safely if the suspects are resisting arrest and provoking violence. Tasers are nonlethal weapons that use electrical current to incapacitate muscles.
Police Chief Brian Gibson said he was among four town officers who were injured in assaults by suspects during the last 10 months. The department has three full-time officers and two part-time officers who patrol the town individually.
“There was a shooting in December and I was following up with suspects and came across a possible one and got into an altercation with him,” Gibson said, explaining the lacerations he received from the assault before another officer came to his aid. “I was fighting with him and another family member came out and started fighting with me while I was trying to subdue [the suspect].”
Gibson said the incident prompted him to begin researching Tasers.
Prince George’s County patrol officers have Tasers and Assistant Police Chief Kevin Davis has said they can be an effective, nonlethal tool to use on suspects fleeing or resisting arrest.
Each full-time Colmar Manor officer will have a Taser, while the part-time officers will share one, as they operate under different shifts, Gibson said.
The Tasers and the training for the devices will cost roughly $6,000, Gibson said of the town-funded approval, adding that the officers will have the Tasers and will have completed training by the start of 2013.
“It’s a safety precaution for the officers,” Gibson said. “It’s another weapon, a less-than-lethal weapon they can use.”
Gibson said there have been no police-involved shootings in Colmar Manor in recent years. He added that, although officers have been assaulted, none of the injuries that resulted from those assaults were serious enough to reduce the department’s number of active officers.
He said one reason officers are seeing more resistance from suspects is a rise in the use of PCP and other synthetic drugs that cause an individual to hallucinate and feel more powerful.
“It’s a problem even nationwide,” Gibson said, noting that the department has experienced two incidents involving PCP in the past two years. “There’s an increase in PCP use. A lot of people are getting on it, and there’s no way of controlling it. They’re strung out on drugs, and you have to fight them.”
In 2011, there were five aggravated assaults, seven breaking-and-entering incidents, seven robberies and one homicide, according to Colmar Manor police.
Countywide, there were 387 arrests involving PCP possession or possession with the intent to distribute in 2011, Davis said in a March interview. Davis said he did not know specific statistics for previous years, but added that the county typically sees numbers in the 200s.
Gibson said that in September someone was inside a Colmar Manor grocery store wielding nunchucks and threatening employees. Officers apprehended the suspect, but one officer sustained back injuries and injuries to his arm and leg and received cuts to his fingers, he said.
Gibson said the officers opted not to use their firearms or pepper spray in the incident, as there were too many other people in the store at the time. In that incident, a Taser would have been ideal, he said.
Some in law enforcement question the effectiveness of Tasers on those who are high on PCP, given the powerful effects of the drug, but add that using one is better than immediately resorting to a handgun.
Vince Canales, president of the county’s Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89, said a Taser’s effectiveness depends on the person’s body size and where the device’s prongs hit the body. Tasers are a great tool with which to protect the safety of officers and others, especially when accompanied by proper training, he said.
“The last thing any officer wants to do is to have to resort to the tool of last resort, which is a handgun,” he said. “Anything that provides a less-than-lethal means of apprehending a suspect is appreciated. Also, sometimes an individual seeing [a Taser] and knowing you have it with you is a deterrent without even having to use it.”
Edmonston Police Chief Stephen Walker said his officers have had Tasers since at least 2005.
“It very much has the potential to use a bit of less force than a nightstick,” Walker said. “It’s not like striking somebody and leaving an injury. Tasers are certainly a valuable tool.”
Bladensburg Police Chief Charles Owens said he has never considered equipping officers with Tasers.
“We just haven’t had a need for them,” Owens said. “Occasionally we run into somebody who resists arrest, but not all that frequently.”
Sadara Barrow, a former Ward 4 councilwoman who has lived in Colmar Manor for 30 years, said she’s not opposed to the police department having Tasers, but added that the use of the devices should be reviewed.
“I definitely believe Tasers are better than guns, but it really all comes down to the training, not just in how to use them but when and why and what’s appropriate and not appropriate,” Barrow said. “There should be a plan for a review period to see if this is really helping.”