Vicksburg cops to get electrical shock guns

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 14, 2009

Vicksburg police will be equipped with Taser devices in the coming months, but no decision has been made on whether their cruisers should be stripped of tracking devices that keep up with their whereabouts and speed, Police Chief Walter Armstrong said Thursday.

Taser is the brand name for handheld weapons that deliver a less-than-deadly electrical shock, working like chemical sprays to subdue people without firearms.

“We are one of the few departments in the country without them,” said Armstrong as guest speaker of the Port City Kiwanis group’s weekly meeting. “It’s another tool we can use, and we have ordered them.”

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Mayor Paul Winfield suggested at a July 22 preliminary budget hearing the department consider doing away with the tracking systems installed in all city vehicles about three years ago. The hardware has already been installed and paid for, but Winfield said the ongoing cost for the service is about $60,000 a year.

South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman objected to getting rid of the GPS technology during the hearing, stating it has helped in situations in which people accuse officers of speeding or being involved in a wreck.

Deputy Chief Richard O’Bannon also said at the hearing the devices have helped discredit accusations about police conduct and whereabouts and also have been helpful in identifying officers who need to be disciplined. As an example, he offered the case of an officer who was caught “doing 85 miles-per-hour up and down Highway 61 South night after night for no reason.”

Winfield said he felt the tracking devices could be taken out of cruisers as the department has enough personnel oversight. He stated officers who are involved in a wreck or break the law while on the road will be caught regardless of the units and “will be dealt with swiftly.” Armstrong said Thursday “no decision has been made yet” on the tracking units, and gave the same answer when a Kiwanis member asked if a new deputy chief had been selected.

No one was appointed to the deputy chief position — despite two attempts by Beauman to reappoint O’Bannon — and Winfield asked the new chief to come back with recommendations at a later date.

Armstrong retired from the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol in June with 25 years of patrol and administrative experience, and was appointed to replace former Chief Tommy Moffett in early July by a 2-1 vote by the mayor and aldermen. Moffett had advocated the tracking technology, said to cost about $360,000 initially.  

Also on Thursday, Armstrong said the department is considering creating a tip line for residents to anonymously report crimes and suspicious behavior. He again reiterated emphasis is being placed on reducing violent and juvenile crimes in the city, and he urged the community to aid police in their efforts. He also said the department is working to increase its ranks from the current 67 officers to 85 to 90, which was also a goal for Moffett.

Sixteen Taser guns were included in the police department’s $6.7 million budget request for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, as were 20 Chevrolet Impala cruisers, four marked and unmarked Chevy Tahoes and two Honda motorcycles. All department heads have been asked by the mayor and aldermen to pare their requests by 7 to 10 percent, and a final budget is to be presented for a public hearing on Aug. 27. This fiscal year, the department’s budget totaled $6.2 million, and $5.9 million last fiscal year.