OCEAN CITY — The Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) will have another weapon in its crime-fighting arsenal next week it breaks out Electronic Control Devices (ECD), or Tasers, for the first-time ever.
Back in October, the Ocean City Mayor and Council approved a pilot program for the acquisition and use of Tasers by the police department on a limited basis. This week, the town’s elected officials approved the department’s new general orders for their use while 14 OCPD officers underwent extensive training. With the approval of the addition to the general orders and the training, the OCPD is expected to begin deploying ECDs next week if necessary.
The approved general orders for the use of Tasers include specific language and guidelines for their appropriate use. OCPD Lieutenant Greg Guiton told the Mayor and Council on Tuesday the officers armed with Tasers will be fully trained and will adhere to strict guidelines.
“With any use of force, no matter where it happens, the officers have to evaluate the need to use the device,” said Guiton. “It is not prohibited from being used on the Boardwalk. The officers have to assess the situation to see if it meets the guidelines that are set in this policy.”
The ECD deployment guidelines assert a police officer may use a Taser when confronted with active aggression or resistance, although its use should be preceded by a verbal warning when practical. If an officer is faced with less than active resistance, but there is reasonable expectation that it would be unsafe to achieve contact range, and attempts to control the subject using other tactics would be unsafe than the officer may deploy the ECD.
No more than one officer may actively deliver ECD charges against a suspect at any one time and officers confronting a subject with a medical or mental condition should evaluate alternative force options available prior to an ECD deployment as a means to gain compliance. An officer will not target the suspect’s face, neck, upper chest, groin, hands, feet or anywhere on the head with the ECD.
Situations where the use of an ECD is not recommended include a suspect in physical control of a vehicle, in and around water where the possibility of drowning exists, in an environment where the suspect’s fall could reasonably result in death or serious injury, for example. In addition, an ECD should not be used in circumstances where the officer knows that flammable, volatile or explosive materials are present. The ECD should never be used in any punitive or unjust manner, according to the general orders.
Guiton specifically mentioned the sensitive population group, or those who would likely suffer potentially harmful side effects from being “tased”, when he addressed the Mayor and Council on Tuesday.
“That is why we’ve laid out a sensitive population group,” said Guiton. “It doesn’t prohibit us from using it on that type of individual, but we must really evaluate whether it is necessary or not. An example would be the elderly, a pregnant female, someone of small stature or under five feet tall and 100 pounds. It still can be used depending on the type of aggression action that is happening. The officer must be mindful that there is a possibility of a side effect to that individual.”
While the trained officers could be equipped with Tasers as early as next week, the department and the town have planned a symposium for next Thursday, Feb. 9, and invited the public to learn about ECDs, when OCPD officers might be forced to use them and the situations during which they might be used.
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas, who had several questions about the department’s use of ECDs this week, encouraged the public to attend the symposium, set from noon to 2 p.m. at Northside Park.
“I think I would be comfortable if everybody in town would come out and see what has happened here and see that you have taken all these precautions,” said Pillas. “Certainly, everything is within this regulation.”
OCPD spokesperson Jessica Waters said this week the trained officers could be deploying the new Tasers early next week although the public information session is not scheduled til later in the week.
“We’re implementing the final phase of the training program and are making the transition into putting them out on the street,” said Waters. “We’re going to have them out next week.”
Waters said because of the publicity surrounding the use ofTtasers, not all of which is positive, hosting a public symposium was a logical step in the implementation process.
“Tasers can be such a hot topic, we want to provide an opportunity for the public to understand how and why we would use them,” she said. “We want to explain the benefits, because so much of what you hear is negative. We will discuss incidents when they might be used and explain the general orders that define when it is appropriate to use them.”
Waters said Tasers are being deployed only after careful study and training in their use.
“We’re hoping to address any concerns because we’ve been doing research for years,” she said.