NEW FOR THURSDAY: Council Balks At Approving More OCPD Tasers

OCEAN CITY – The Mayor and City Council was torn this week between spending funds available in this fiscal year’s budget to purchase eight additional Tasers for the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) or wait to prioritize expenditures when the budget picture clears.< ?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office">

OCPD Captain Gregory Guiton came before the council, with Mayor Rick Meehan, Council President Lloyd Martin and Councilman Joe Mitrecic out of town attending the National Hurricane Conference, to discuss the OCPD’s request to purchase the additional Tasers at the cost of $11,400 out of FY 2013 budget.

Guiton explained on March 5 OCPD officials met with City Manager David Recor and Budget Manager Jennie Knapp to discuss the new fiscal year budget and the department’s proposed expenditures. One of the proposed expenditures was to be for 22 additional Tasers to equip trained officers.

“We identified monies in this year’s budget to move forward with a portion of those to reduce that proposed expenditure,” Recor said. “This is not a grant. This is money out of an alternative line item in the police department’s FY 13 General Fund budget.”

It is known the upcoming budget will be faced with a significant shortfall and to reduce expenditures Recor and Knapp directed OCPD to request eight additional Tasers this week to equip eight trained officers without devices.

The purchase of the eight devices under the current FY 2013 budget will reduce the number of Tasers requested in FY 2014, as the department continues to outfit all officers serving in an operational capacity with this less lethal device.  The department currently has 26 Tasers in service. The additional eight will allow the department to outfit 37 percent of the officers and first line supervisors serving in an operational role.

Councilwoman Margaret Pillas was concerned over the expenditure on the Tasers leading to an additional cost for the remaining 14 in the upcoming budget.

I don’t know how to think about this … I am going to have to take the advice of the police department hoping that I don’t have to eliminate something down the road that is more important,” she said.

However, Pillas chose to abstain from the vote to wait until the FY 2014 budget process is underway in a couple weeks to have a better perspective on proposed expenditures.

“We have some definite budget challenges coming up and from what I understand some substantial employee raises and so forth, so for me I am going to abstain as well because I would like to see the big picture before we spend any more money,” Councilman Brent Ashley said, agreeing with Pillas.

Guiton pointed out if the purchase of additional Tasers are put off until the start of the next budget year, which is July 1, there will be trained officers left without Tasers on the streets this summer.

Councilman Dennis Dare asserted the Tasers end up saving money in the long run from decreasing the number of confrontations police officers have.

“It is probably hard to put a number on it, but we do look at the workman’s comp claims and all the auxiliary costs from using physical force as opposed to these ECDs,” Dare said. “It would be nice to outfit every police officer with it and this is a step towards that.”

Council Secretary Mary Knight was also in favor of moving forward with the request despite her reservations when the program was first implemented.

“It does save money in workers compensation … and it also saves of course the safety of our officers, the safety of the perpetrator, we have the money I would think this is a very sound suggestion,” she said.

With the assertion of Tasers saving the town money, Ashley asked for data that represented a direct correlation between the implementation of the Taser program and a drop in workman’s compensation but the information was not handy at that time.

“Again, just as a reminder we are talking about $11,400 out of the FY13 budget,” Recor said. “I think Capt. Guiton was right on the money when he indicated, if we delay this, particularly through the start of the FY 2014 budget we won’t have these on the street in our season. I think it is a safe bet that our risk manager is going to say that we do not save $11,400 as a result of deploying eight additional Tasers. That said we are expecting an actual increase in our overall risk management workers compensation, what essentially operates as an internal service fund that is also included in the FY14 budget.”

The council continued to go back and forth between the idea of approving the request to have the additional eight trained officers on the street this summer equipped with Tasers or waiting for more information on how the expenditure would impact the upcoming budget. In the end, the council was in consensus to postpone a decision until Monday night’s legislative meeting when more information will be presented.

Last July, former Police Chief Bernadette DiPino presented an update on the OCPD Taser program that was implemented in February 2012. At that time, there have been 19 Taser displays in an effort to gain voluntary compliance.