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Third time is a charm Burns Harbor: Taser use approved; Westport renting again?

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By PAULENE POPARAD

Despite member Gene Weibl’s concerns, the Burns Harbor Town Council voted 3-1 Wednesday to allow the Police Department to use Tasers as a means of immobilizing out-of-control persons if the need arises.

Tasers previously have been authorized for use by other area police departments.

A purchase order was signed allowing Burns Harbor town marshal Mike Heckman to buy five Tasers for $8,351. The cost includes training, support and video cameras mounted on the units.

"We’ll still get sued,” predicted Weibl.

Councilmen Jim McGee, Mike Perrine and Greg Miller voted for Taser use, in part based on revised police guidelines Heckman prepared that consolidates the department’s use-of-force policy and controls.

Councilman Jeff Freeze, Police Department liaison, was absent, but president McGee said Freeze was comfortable with the Taser request, which has been discussed at the two previous meetings. Weibl said he wasn’t prepared to vote after only having received the policy from Freeze on Tuesday.

Miller said Taser use would be subject to Heckman’s regulation and discretion, and the council can revisit the matter if it isn’t carried out to the council’s satisfaction.

Perrine, a former police officer, said the bottom line was whether a Taser should be one of the tools law enforcement has available if needed. Other options, such as a firearm, could pose health risks to a person as well, he noted. “They all have a potential to cause harm,” said Miller.

In October the Police Department handled 260 incidents, investigated four vehicle crashes and made four arrests, all misdemeanors. Heckman said an officer is resigning and the position will be advertised for a replacement.

Westport deed in hand

Clerk-treasurer Jane Jordan said the town’s deed of ownership for the former Westport Community Club and adjacent property has been received after its donation to the town.

Mike Anton and Jim Anton of Anton Insurance were present to clarify whether Westport is in fact “vacant". If so, said Mike Anton, special coverage would be needed.

Since the utilities are still on, the property is supervised and the Police Department inspects the building weekly, it was determined Westport is not vacant and it can be kept under the town’s property umbrella when it renews.

The council debated whether the building could and should be rented out as it was in the past; Perrine, a former Westport Community Club officer, said the outdated building needs maintenance and he asked whether it has to be made handicapped-accessible for renters.

Town attorney Bob Welsh was asked to investigate. Perrine said the restrooms need to be enlarged and renovated, and a ramp into the building built. He also recommended putting a new roof on Westport or it will deteriorate even more than it already is.

When asked by an audience member what the council intends to do, McGee replied nothing right now.

In other business, McGee was elected 2014 council president, a position he’s held for many years. Freeze was re-elected vice-president. All current department heads also were reappointed for 2014.

Street superintendent Randy Skalku said, “We’re good to go” with trucks changed out to snow plows for the winter. Brush still will be collected for residents if they call to arrange pick-up.

New fire extrication tool

The council voted unanimously to purchase an extrication spreader for the Fire Department. Chief Bill Arney said the previous one purchased in 1989 failed over the weekend but firefighters were able to use a cutting tool to extricate a victim.

Arney said he’s able to move money in his budget to buy the $5,000 spreader, a demo model under full warranty. He noted the department needs both tools so in 2014 he hopes to replace the aging cutter as well.

The chief said the department’s recent spaghetti dinner fundraiser, an annual community event, was a great success and he thanked all who attended.

In October the fire service responded to 68 calls, 28 of them ambulance call-outs, spending 47 hours 11 minutes on-scene at emergencies; 34 firefighters participated in four training nights last month.

Among the fire responses were 10 assists to EMS, nine vehicle accidents, seven Portage assists, three dive calls, four each South Haven assists and responses to Mittal Steel, and one each power line fire, fire alarm and brush fire. Fire vehicles traveled 1,445 miles.

The Town Council agreed by consensus to allow Jordan to pay the incorporated firefighters’ association its annual payment for service in November instead of December.

On a 4-0 vote the council approved a revamped policy allowing individual members to seek town-related advice from legal, engineering and financial consultants in between the monthly meetings. Major discussions need prior approval of the council majority at a public meeting.

Weibl said members share information with each other so duplicate contacts likely aren’t needed. Welsh said typically it’s the president who brings questions to him. Miller said Jordan can alert the council if the policy results in unexpected charges not covered under retainers.

 

Posted 11/14/2013