St. Joseph Hospital offers to pay city to get Taser for officers in emergency department

Posted Feb. 04, 2013, at 11:59 a.m.
Last modified Feb. 04, 2013, at 7:37 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — St. Joseph Hospital wants every police officer on assignment in the emergency department to have access to a Taser, and is willing to pay the city to get one.

The Government Operations Committee on Monday night approved a deal in which the hospital will give the city up to $1,000 to purchase the Taser, which will be donated to the police department and stored at the hospital.

“St. Joseph Hospital requests that all Bangor police officers assigned to the special detail in our Emergency Department, as well as officers responding to other calls for assistance at St. Joseph Hospital, have available a Taser for their use,” Stacy Norris, St. Joseph’s administrator of quality and safety-corporate compliance officer, wrote in a January memo to interim police Chief Peter Arno.

Tasers deliver an electric shock that will knock out a violent attacker for 30 seconds from up to 15 feet away, according to the company’s website.

The interim chief said Tasers sometimes “bring a lot of fanfare and some concerns,” but they are valuable tools for police officers trying to subdue out-of-control subjects. He said Tasers are more effective than pepper spray, which lingers in a room after being sprayed and exacerbates patients’ health problems.

Arno said in a memo to members of the Government Operation Committee that the police department supported the purchase, as long as the Taser is stored in a locked storage container only accessible by police officers.

St. Joseph hires police officers to work “private details” at the emergency department at certain hours throughout the week, according to Arno.

“[Hiring of police] has occurred for the past several weeks and was initiated due to an increase in incidents, or potential incidents of violence against emergency room personnel,” Arno wrote, adding that the hospital recognizes “the benefit to officers, hospital staff, visitors, patients, and the suspect during acts of violence that occur within the emergency room.”

Hospital staff were not immediately available Monday morning to discuss recent incidents.

Arno said the police department owns Tasers, which are issued to on-duty personnel, but “there are not enough to ensure that an officer assigned to the emergency room detail will have one during every detail,” so having one on site would be useful.

Eastern Maine Medical Center worked out a similar deal with the city in 2009, a move that generated lively debate in the city among some residents who believed Tasers were dangerous and untested and others who wanted police to have a tool to protect patients and staff from unruly visitors. Both hospitals have reported increasingly volatile situations involving patients and visitors, especially to the emergency department.

The potential for violence also prompted EMMC to install new security screening devices in the emergency department in November. The equipment installation stemmed from language in a 3-year nurses’ union contract ratified in May that called for improved security measures to protect staff and patients.

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