Craig Police Department invests in officer safety

It has been a goal of the Craig Police Department to get up to speed with technology needed to ensure officer safety, said Police Chief Walt Vanatta, and in this city budget cycle he plans to make two purchases that are a means to that end.

Vanatta has budgeted to purchase cameras for each patrol car and "bean bag" rounds for each officer a less lethal way to diffuse a dangerous situation.

Bean bag rounds are becoming a tool for resolving high-risk conflicts without the use of deadly force. They are, just as the name implies, small bean bags filled with 40 to 42 grams of lead shot that can be fired from a 12-gauge shotgun.

Accuracy of the shot improves the closer the range and inflicts intense, but temporary pain, allowing officers time to disarm a person if necessary. The pain has been likened to being hit by a fastball from a major-league pitcher extremely painful, but not fatal.

The technology was developed as a way for officers to respond to "suicide by cop" instances where people not have the courage to kill themselves so they instigate a situation that forces a police officer to kill them.

"It's a thing most agencies are faced with more and more," Vanatta said. "A person threatening suicide is not breaking any laws, but we are put in a position where we have to neutralize the situation."

In a suicide situation officers have few options. If they try to tackle a person, they risk getting shot or stabbed and chemical agents don't work fast enough to prevent the person from shooting. The last option is to use deadly force, a decision Vanatta said, weighs on an officer's mind forever.

The bean bag rounds have been known to shoot a gun or a knife out of a person's hands.

"It gives us a less lethal option of using force," Vanatta said. "The potential is always there for a person to take that extra step to have us finish the job."

According to Vanatta, the technology would have been effective in a situation that occurred in Craig last year where two officers had to disarm a man who was wielding a knife. Vanatta said the Police Department responds to several attempted suicide calls each year.

Bean bag rounds cost about $1 each. The Craig Police Department Special Emergency Response Team will be equipped with them, but each patrol car will also carry them because of their ability to respond more quickly to a situation.

Each officer will be required to complete a four-hour training course to use the bean-bags and pass a qualification test. The class will instruct officers in proper methods and circumstances for using the bean bags, liability issues, physical and psychological effects of the bean bags and the less-lethal philosophy.

In addition to equipping patrol cars with bean bags, Vanatta also plans to install a camera in each vehicle. Arming police officers with cameras is also a trend in officer safety across the nation. According to Vanatta, all Colorado State Patrol vehicles are equipped with cameras.

About $4,000 each, the benefit of the investment is as an evidence tool the camera documents all officer and offender actions.

According to Vanatta, filming incidents leads to more guilty pleas in court because what was once a "he said, she said" situation is now a matter of watching a video tape.

"If an officer makes a traffic stop and a person calls (to complain) all I have to do is pull the video," Vanatta said.

There is a nationwide push from insurance companies and risk management evaluators to equip patrol cars with cameras. According to Vanatta, the technology eliminates many lawsuits. Judges have also said having video evidence made trials easier.

Both purchases have been budgeted for 2000 and will be purchased within the next year.

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