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Vermont Police Chiefs Want New Stun Gun Certification System

Montpelier — A leader of Vermont’s police chiefs says they want to see the Legislature approve a new system of training and certification for police officers to use electric stun guns.

Winooski Police Chief Steven McQueen’s comments followed a news conference last week in which critics of police use of Tasers called for new statewide training and standards. They said not enough has been done in the year since 39-year-old Macadam Mason, of Thetford, died after being shot by a state trooper with a Taser.

McQueen is past president of the Vermont Association of Chiefs of Police who still represents the group at the Statehouse and on the state Criminal Justice Training Council.

He said the chiefs’ group, a separate Vermont Police Association and county sheriffs had been working with the Criminal Justice Training Council and testifying in the Legislature with the goal of having the Council develop a new system of certifying officers as trained in the use of Tasers.

McQueen’s comments came Friday, a day after the American Civil Liberties Union, Vermont Legal Aid and other groups joined a small group of lawmakers to say they did not think the state had made sufficient progress on the Taser issue since Mason’s death.

McQueen disagreed with Thursday’s speakers on one key point: They want to narrow police use of Tasers to situations that otherwise would call for deadly force. He said he wanted police to be able to use the devices in situations in which people are fighting with them.

If Taser use is limited only to situations in which the alternative would be use of a firearm, “I’m going to put in the box and send it back,” the Winooski chief said.

Speakers at Thursday’s news conference also said police need better training in dealing with people who are experiencing mental health crises. They joined recent calls for joint crisis teams including police and mental health counselors to respond to such situations.

Police don’t object to such efforts at coordination, McQueen said. But he argued that when “someone is wielding a machete,” it doesn’t matter whether the underlying cause is mental illness or criminal intent. The officer’s primary job is to “stop the threat,” he said.