Small-town cops take to a shocking new tool


First Posted: 5/8/2008

To stun or not to stun?

That was the question last week in Ottoville. When council members in the community of 900 split 3-3 on whether to buy a stun gun for the village police force, it came down to Mayor Ron Miller to break the tie. He didn't hesitate.

"If we're going to have to drop somebody," he explained Wednesday, "I'd rather have somebody dropped that way than with a gun."

Electronic stun guns have become standard police tools in American cities. The Lima Police Department has used stun guns since 2000 and now owns about two dozen of them. In 2007, according to Lt. Chip Protsman, Lima officers had cause to fire stun guns 53 times.

Nowhere near that many shocking incidents are likely to arise in Ottoville. Aside from the occasional bar fight, Miller said, "we don't have a lot of action around here."

That could be one reason some council members weren't entirely sold on buying a stunner. Some members had concerns about liability, and the cost is not trivial for a small village. Considering the initial purchase, officer training and ancillary equipment - battery, charger, holster - it will likely cost more than $1,000 to put a stun gun on the street.

Randy Altenburger, one of the council members who voted against the purchase, said he wasn't necessarily opposed to getting a stun gun. He just thought "a little more gathering of information could've been done" before the decision was made.

But even for the smallest departments, stun guns may soon be standard equipment. Among Putnam County villages comparable in size to Ottoville, Pandora has three, bought nearly four years ago. Continental has none, but Police Chief Arnie Hardy said he believes it's just a matter of time.

Pandora's stun guns have been fired only twice, but Police Chief Scott J. Stant still considers them a good investment in avoiding gunplay and physical confrontations.

"The medical bills from one injury would pay for a Taser real quick," he said.

Jay Herrick was Ottoville's police chief only a few months before he asked the council to consider buying a stun gun for his department, which has two full- and five part-time officers.

"It's basically just a safety issue," Herrick said. "Being a small department, if something would happen it could be a good 10 minutes before anybody could get to [an officer] to assist. Most of the time nobody's near us and we're out here on our own."

Miller was nudged in the direction of acquiring a stun gun by the experience of his son Kyle, a police officer who has worked in Spencerville and with the Putnam County Sheriff's Office. Herrick was convinced when he was with the Police Department in Rockford, where he was on the receiving end of the big shock that is a requisite part of training to use a stun gun.

Herrick's boss in Rockford, which has 250 more people than Ottoville, was Paul May. May has been Rockford's police chief since 1999, and he said stun guns have been "a godsend."

The fact that none of his officers has ever had to stun anybody doesn't diminish his enthusiasm. In fact, that's just the point.

Rockford bought two stun guns in 2004. Only once, May said, has one of them been fired - at an attacking dog.

In the same time, officers have only once had to wrestle a person to the ground. That was a man who had poured gasoline on himself, so officers couldn't risk using the stun gun.

Otherwise, May said, his officers have drawn their stun guns 20 times, and no officer has had to draw a firearm because he was in imminent danger. Whenever a situation seemed about to get out of control, the threat of a good shock was always enough.

Once a stun gun is deployed, May said, "we've had complete compliance."

A stunning record.

You can comment on this story at www.limaohio.