Following a unanimous vote from the Board of Selectmen Tuesday night, Nov. 15, Searsport police officers will have another way to protect themselves and others who are in potentially dangerous situations.

Following an ongoing discussion that began at their Nov. 1 meeting, selectmen adopted a policy aimed at governing the use of stun guns by Searsport police officers.

Board chairman Aaron Fethke said over the last two weeks he spoke with local law enforcement officers and residents about the possibility of Searsport officers having and using stun guns. Fethke described the policy that Searsport Police Chief Dick LaHaye presented for consideration at the Nov. 1 meeting as “comprehensive” and said he did not have a problem with SPD obtaining stun guns.

“As long as there’s training and as long as there’s a policy,” Fethke said.

At the Nov. 1 meeting, LaHaye presented the board with the policy that is currently in use at the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office, where he said deputies have carried stun guns for the last three years. LaHaye asked the board to consider adopting the policy because without it, all 10 of the officers who work for Searsport cannot use the weapons.

Some of the officers who work for Searsport also serve neighboring police departments such as the WCSO or the Stockton Springs Police Department, noted Selectman Dick Desmarais, and in every other town the officers work in, they are allowed to bring their stun guns along when they report for duty. That was not the case in Searsport because the town lacked a policy.

Selectman Roland LaReau had previously expressed concern about the liability the town could face in the event that police use a stun gun to subdue a person, and LaHaye referred to a recent “60 Minutes” story that explored stun gun use by law enforcement officers around the country.

LaHaye said the “60 Minutes” piece explored the widening use of the electroshock weapon by law enforcement, and that in just over a decade of widespread use by police there have been three lawsuits and 20 fatalities linked to stun gun use. LaHaye noted that the deaths were attributed to health problems the subjects had prior to being subdued by the weapon.

“I still have some trepidation about liability,” said LaReau.

But LaReau immediately added that he is familiar with all of the local officers and is confident that “SPD would use it judicially.”

When Fethke asked Town Manager James Gillway if stun gun use by SPD would impact the town’s insurance through Maine Municipal Association, Gillway said if rates were to rise it would not be known by how much until the town obtains the actual devices.

“We’ll know better next year,” he said.

LaHaye told LaReau he understood his concerns about liability, but then offered a counter scenario.

“If we don’t have it and an officer gets injured you still have liability,” said LaHaye.

LaHaye said since the county began using stun guns, the weapons have been used five times in three years and that “there have been no other issues.”

LaHaye also reminded the board of another recent incident when a stun gun was used in Belfast to subdue a reportedly suicidal man who was wielding a knife.

“That was a very dangerous situation right in downtown Belfast,” said LaHaye. “I share the concerns that board has about liability, and I share the concerns that the citizens have on this, but I do believe we have a great group of guys who are not going to be taking this lightly.”

Resident Harlan McLaughlin referred to the ongoing Occupy Wall Street movement and similar protests that are taking place around the country, and recent accounts of police using stun guns on people who are participating in the demonstrations.

“What kinds of guidelines are you going to have that tell an officer when and when not to use a Taser?” McLaughlin asked.

LaHaye said it is up to the officer to use discretion in every situation, and that the goal is to only use necessary force in order to achieve compliance. Gillway added that the proposed policy includes an entire paragraph outlining the options that officer have in addition to or in lieu of stun gun use, such as issuing verbal commands or requesting back-up.

“It’s to be used to avert a violent situation,” said Gillway, who himself is a former Searsport police officer and chief, adding that there are rules governing the use of a stun gun.

Fethke noted that the policy requires the completion of a use report each time an officer uses a stun gun, and because of that, each situation is reviewed.

LaHaye also noted that the stun guns he intends to purchase will be equipped with camcorders, which will give officers an additional way to document stun gun use.

After some additional discussion, selectmen voted 5-0 to adopt the policy.

There was no discussion at the Nov. 15 meeting about whether officers would be required, as part of their training, to have a stun gun used on them before they are certified to use it. Although such a requirement is in place in some departments, LaHaye had expressed his opposition to such a requirement when the issue was discussed at the Nov. 1 meeting.