POTSDAM — Prioritizing life was at the heart of a new town “use of force” policy drafted by two Town Board members.
The policy is directed at the town’s peace officer, a position currently held by Timothy A. Rivers, in order to govern how use of force is applied and under what circumstances the use of deadly force is considered acceptable. Board members Toni A. Kennedy and Sarah L. Lister said they researched use of force policies around the country when drafting the town’s, determining that its purpose would be to “prevent unnecessary force, ensure accountability and transparency, and ensure the community’s trust and confidence in the town of Potsdam’s ability to protect and serve.”
“I think just our general goal with this policy is to prioritize life, that deadly force was really the last option and we would like to — I know we put pepper spray in because we want the peace officer to be required to carry something with less lethal force,” Mrs. Kennedy said.
Currently, the peace officer only carries a firearm.
The policy includes definitions of deadly force/lethal force, serious physical injury, Imminent threat; it includes a “force continuum” graph which lays out force options and a totality of circumstances; determining the objective reasonableness of force in three parts was drafted as well as prohibited use of force and drawing and pointing firearms; and concludes with reporting and reviewing the use of force.
The drafted policy states “(a)ll peace officers shall be required to carry an approved less-lethal weapon including pepper spray.”
Mrs. Kennedy and Ms. Lister said they were not sure if they needed to be specific as to what additional, less-lethal weapon the peace officer should carry of if it could be left up to the supervisor.
“If the peace officer came to the supervisor saying ‘I would like to carry pepper spray but I would also like to carry a taser in cases where that would be more appropriate,’” Mrs. Lister said. “That could be a decision that the board makes or the supervisor makes at the time.”
Town Attorney Francis P. Cappello said the trouble with dictating when use of force is acceptable is that there are times when split-second decisions have to be made and all the facts of the circumstances aren’t present.
He said the best way to avoid a situation gone wrong is by making sure that the peace officer has all the training needed when using any non-lethal weapons.
“I think the policy’s good, but you got to make sure he gets any additional training necessary with regard to the use of mace or tasers, especially, I’m not a fan of tasers,” Mr. Cappello said. “That’s a lot of voltage to be shot through two little spikes. It’s not a gun, but it can kill. You don’t know if this person you are tasing has a medical condition. The training is the most important thing.”
Ms. Lister agreed and echoed Mrs. Kennedy.
“We really, as we wrote this, every section, we would look back at that purpose of this, which is really the respect for human rights, dignity and life,” she said.
Town Supervisor Ann M. Carvill said what stuck out to her about the draft policy was “to obviously use the least force first and I also like the reporting requirements.”
“It is certainly an important policy to have,” Mrs. Carvill said. “I was impressed. I like it very much . . . And I did send it over to the courthouse and they saw your draft, so it looks like it’s good to go.”
The board will vote on the policy during its next meeting.