West Tisbury approves police use of bean bag shotguns


The West Tisbury Police Department has a new tool in its public safety arsenal. Selectmen last week approved a written policy for the use of a less lethal weapon — in this case, shotguns that fire bean bags rather than bullets.

Acting police chief Sergeant Dan Rossi told the selectmen that the bean bags do not break the skin and are intended to stop a violent subject before there is the need to use a lethal-force weapon.

Two 12-gauge shotguns have been converted to fire 40 gram bean bags. Mr. Rossi told The Times that the weapon is fired at a target from 7 to 20 yards away, sounds like a shotgun, and would stop a volatile situation from escalating.

“The chances of using this weapon are very, very minimal. But it is an extra tool that gives the officer an opportunity to apprehend a noncompliant subject in a way that is less dangerous to the officer or the subject,” according to Mr. Rossi.

The weapons have been stored at the police department for a number of years, but without an approved written policy specific to this weapon they were not available for use, Mr. Rossi said. Oak Bluffs, Edgartown, and Chilmark have had this tool for a number of years and Aquinnah is in the process of writing a formal policy also, Mr. Rossi said.

Chairman Richard Knabel and Cynthia Mitchell voted to approve the policy. Selectman Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter, a police officer, abstained. The selectmen also approved Mr. Rossi’s plans to hire two summer officers who will work primarily at the airport.

Sergeant Rossi and the selectmen also discussed stepped-up police enforcement of permit parking regulations at Lambert’s Cove Beach. Mr. Rossi said that he will be working with the beach staff so that, in addition to officers patrolling the area two or three times a day, the staff notifies the police department if they see a vehicle parked without a sticker.

Mr. Rossi told The Times that he wants the beach staff to contact police rather than have to confront non-permitted parkers. “There are always parking problems down there and we just want to be sure that everything is all right and it is safe for everyone,” he said.

The beach season officially begins Saturday, June 26. Parking permit stickers go on sale June 19 at the West Tisbury School parks and recreation building.

In other business, the selectmen approved a $29 line item transfer request made by town accountant Bruce Stone. Mr. Stone told the selectmen that during close scrutiny of the FY 2010 operating budget he discovered that he had under-counted by one day each the personnel costs associated with the position of executive secretary (now called the town administrator) and the town accountant. Although the amount was small ($16 for the executive secretary and $13 for the town accountant) and would also need to be approved by the town Finance Committee, the selectmen’s vote was divided. Mr. Knabel and Ms. Mitchell approved and Mr. Manter voted “nay.” Mr. Manter said he did not think it is appropriate to undermine the town meeting by altering the approved operating budget by any amount.

The selectmen unanimously accepted the dissolution request of the Town Hall Renovation Committee “with profound thanks,” Mr. Knabel said. Mr. Manter added that, “There should be taps playing in the background and tears in our eyes.”

Library Building Committee chairman Linda Hearn informed the selectmen that, at the committee’s first meeting, Peter Rodegast resigned because he thinks that he may have a conflict of interest. Mrs. Hearn asked the selectmen to approve re-advertising for one more volunteer to serve on a seven-member committee. The selectmen unanimously approved the request.

Selectmen postponed for a week appointments to the police department building committee. The selectmen debated whether there should be ex-officio members of the committee to include the fire chief and the police chief.

Mr. Manter said that Fire Chief Manuel (Manny) Estrella has not asked to be on the committee. The deadline for applying to serve on the volunteer committee was April 21. “He could be asked to be ex officio,” Mr. Knabel responded. “He did not apply but you are going to ask him?” Mr. Manter asked. “So what!” Mr. Knabel said.

Mr. Knabel said that he thought that the Fire Chief should be a part of the planning process because it is possible that the public safety building campus would be the site for the new police station.

“If he has shown no interest he should not be an ex-officio member,” said Mr. Manter. Mr. Manter said that he does not like ex-officio members because “they do all the work, attend all the meetings but cannot vote.” Mr. Knabel responded that “ex-officio members are not second class citizens. They are very involved.”

And again, the selectmen also discussed the number of members of the committee and the number of seats on the committee for representatives of the police department. Ms. Mitchell made a motion to table the issue for a week so that she could think about the makeup of the committee. The motion was approved.