After months of debate that divided West Point City Council and local residents, the use of Tasers by West Point police was approved Monday night.
Councilwoman Sandra Thornton was the only “no” vote. Councilwoman Gloria Ramsey Marshall was absent.
“This policy has bothered me more than anything else the council has ever done,” Thornton said. “I support our police department, but not all issues the residents have with the police department have been addressed. This has divided our community. We work for the people and they have told us they don’t want this.”
The resolution allowing the Tasers includes a use of force policy and guidelines for deployment and training of officers. The policy ensures Monday’s vote is not the final chapter for the debate in West Point.
Tasers will not be issued to officers for at least 30 days after council’s decision. Police Chief Jeffrey Cato also is required to provide a “use of force” report to city council twice a year.
The resolution also contains an order that council create a Citizens’ Police Review Board. The board will have the authority to review residents’ complaints against the police department and assure the department adequately investigates all complaints lodged against it.
Details on that review board, including its size and who might be appointed to it, have not been released.
Councilman Joe downs said he was pleased to see a review process included in the use of force policy. He said the first few incidents were Tasers are used should be reviewed by the committee even if there is no complaint.
“We need to continue to have these discussions,” he said.
Thornton said Monday night she didn’t believe a policy would solve the residents’ issues with officers.
Other council members voiced support for police Monday night.
“We’re always going to have issues but we have some great officers,” Councilwoman Judy Wilkinson said.
Council has debated whether to allow police to carry Tasers for several months. Cato had first talked about getting the non-lethal weapons for police officers two years ago. The plan was shelved because of the cost. Early this year, Troup County Sheriff Donny Turner said his office would pay the $20,000 it would take to buy Tasers for 15 police officers.
The city still will need to pay about $600 a year for training and replacement of the Taser cartridges.
Council took several months to make the decision on the Tasers after allowing extra time to educate concerned residents on the weapon’s use and hold an informal public hearing to listen to concerns. In the midst of that, a group of residents marched on City Hall before a council meeting to protest alleged abuses of the police department.
A group of residents and city officials have had several meetings since then and those meetings continue.