MDI town buys Tasers to deal with bath salts users

Posted Nov. 23, 2011, at 4:02 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 24, 2011, at 8:47 a.m.

SOUTHWEST HARBOR, Maine — According to the local police chief, the drug known as bath salts is not the sole reason his department has been approved to acquire three new Tasers.

But the illegal drug and the erratic, aggressive behavior it seems to provoke are among the reasons that prompted the department’s request for stun guns, Police Chief David Chapais said Wednesday.

“It’s not specifically for bath salts,” the chief said. “It’s just another tool.”

Concern about bath salts, a synthetic drug that has caused some people to experience paranoid hallucinations and sudden surges of strength, have been cited by other law enforcement agencies in Maine that recently acquired Tasers or have expressed an interest in doing so.

Last month, the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department received approval from county commissioners to acquire eight Tasers for their officers. Knox County Sheriff Donna Dennison and Lincoln Police Chief William Lawrence each have said recently that they are looking into the possibility of acquiring Tasers for their officers, in part because of the threat of erratic behavior by bath salts users.

Tasers shoot barbs, attached by wires to batteries in the device, that incapacitate people by sending electrical charges through their bodies and nullifying their muscular control, according to police. Officers with police departments in Bangor and Ellsworth, which are equipped with Tasers, have said the devices can be an effective tool in dealing with out-of-control bath salts users.

Chapais said Southwest Harbor selectmen gave their approval earlier this month to his request for acquiring three Tasers, which he said are expected to cost a total of about $3,700. Don LaGrange, Southwest Harbor’s interim town manager, is in the process of trying to find funds in the town budget for the purchase, the chief said. He said he hopes to have them soon but might not have the devices and his officers trained to use them until 2012.

Chapais said he hopes he can get qualified rangers at Acadia National Park, which equips its law enforcement officers with Tasers, to provide the proper training to his department.

“Next year, we’re hoping to get three [more],” he said.

With a total of six Tasers, the department would have one for each of its full-time officers and one for when a part-time reserve officer also is on duty.

Chapais said that although his department has had to respond to incidents involving people acting erratically and aggressively, he does not know for sure that any such incidents were caused by someone ingesting bath salts. The unpredictable nature of bath salts users, he said, and other incidents in which Tasers might have turned out to be useful prompted his request to selectmen.

The chief said it is impossible to predict a situation in which a Taser might have to be used, because each situation is different and can change very quickly, for good or bad. But he said he can envision scenarios, such as someone not acknowledging police commands or threatening to harm themselves, in which a Taser could help end a confrontation peacefully.

“Sometimes an officer has to make a decision to use force or deadly force in a millisecond,” Chapais said. “My goal it to purchase [the Tasers] and to never have to use them. That’s the same goal for our firearms.”

Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter (@billtrotter) on Twitter.

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