PT Council asked to spend $200k plus on Tasers, police vehicles

Proposal to use COVID-relief funds raises concern

Posted 11/8/21

Brian Kelly


Two new police cars: yes.

Sixteen new Tasers: maybe later.

The Port Townsend City Council unanimously agreed to spend up to $160,000 on two new …

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PT Council asked to spend $200k plus on Tasers, police vehicles

Proposal to use COVID-relief funds raises concern




Two new police cars: yes.

Sixteen new Tasers: maybe later.

The Port Townsend City Council unanimously agreed to spend up to $160,000 on two new police cars with federal COVID-19 relief funds, but postponed a $52,200 proposal to buy 16 new Tasers.

Both purchases were opposed by residents who commented on the proposals during Monday’s council meeting.

City officials said the addition of two new hybrid police vehicles were needed since the police department has five patrol vehicles that are more than 14 years old, and two others that are more than 11 years old.

Port Townsend currently has a fleet of 20 police vehicles, which outnumbers the amount of officers in the department.

Officials said ordering the vehicles now would mean the vehicles would be delivered in about six months or so.

City Manager John Mauro said waiting until the 2022 budget was finished in December would double the wait time for new police vehicles.

Public comment before the vote was squarely against the purchase, and residents said the city should focus on bigger priorities, including the lack of housing.


Ideally, Councilmember David Faber said he would not want to see the council spend the money.

“I have a lot of questions about how police departments are funded in the first place; what kind of equipment is truly needed in a community like ours, versus what police departments would like to have,” he said.

Faber added that was a thornier collection of issues, however, and he supported spending the one-time funds so the purchase could go forward.

Before the vote, attorneys from Jefferson Associated Council, which provides public legal defense for defendants in local court cases, sent the council a letter that opposed the use of American Rescue Act funding for new police cars.

“In the summer of 2020 — right in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis — hundreds of Port Townsend residents poured onto the streets to ask that the city and the county rethink the ways in which we keep our community safe,” the letter said.

“We fail to see how flashy new squad cars to support police morale helps our struggling neighbors to deal with the very concrete issues of food and housing insecurity, and mental health. This is evidenced by the many nonprofit organizations in town who do that work regularly, without carrying Tasers and handcuffs.”

The attorneys asked the city to spend the money on another Navigator position.

“Use the money to invest in people, not police,” the letter concluded.

Councilmember Amy Howard said she felt strongly about appropriately funding the police department.

“It doesn’t feel good,” she said, but added that the need did exist. Hiring another crisis responder wouldn’t make sense if the Navigator didn’t have a vehicle to respond to calls.

Councilmember Pamela Adams noted the safety issues involved with older vehicles and added that councilmembers weren’t talking about the purchase of military-style equipment such as AK-47 assault rifles for police officers.

Councilman Owen Rowe said the vehicles are a long-term investment for public safety purposes and was appropriate.

“I know it doesn’t look good,” Mayor Michelle Sandoval said in response to public comment.

And she noted the city has devoted funding to housing issues.

“It’s not like we have been picking police cars over affordable housing,” the mayor said.

“Image is one thing, but looking at the finances is something else altogether,” Sandoval said.


The proposal to buy a bundle of new Tasers was delayed, however.

City officials noted that only three Tasers in the department are still under warranty from the manufacturer.

Mauro added that the city was required under state law to have a less-than-lethal force available for police officers.

Without Tasers, that leaves handcuffs, Mauro said.

Axon Enterprises, the company that makes Tasers, has a corner on the market, Mauro noted.

“There are no other viable options,” he said.

City officials noted that the warranty on some of Port Townsend’s existing Tasers expired months ago, while three were still under warranty. The manufacturer also won’t assist the city if it’s sued over its out-of-date Tasers.

“It makes me frustrated with these companies, that they do this to cities,” said Councilmember Ariel Speser.

“We need to find a way to get away from spending $50,000 on Tasers,” she added. “Imagine a world where we spend $50,000 on, like, mental health.”

“I know we can’t do that tonight,” Speser said.

Speser said the Taser alternative was better than an officer pulling a handgun.

“It sure feels like a bleak silver lining,” Speser said.

She raised concern about the lack of background information on the use of Tasers by Port Townsend police.


In public comments submitted before the vote, residents and others opposed spending COVID relief funds on the police department.

“I adamantly oppose this when it runs against current citizen proposals to defund police departments, and when our businesses and families have been living under extreme duress since (before) the pandemic started,” Karma Tenzing Wangchuk said.

“Find another way to ensure the police department is funded, if you must,” Wangchuk added.

“I was quite appalled to hear this as we all know of the huge housing crisis we have here; but there are so many other important things we could be doing,” added Erika Hitchcock. “Perhaps more resources for BIPOC folks or houseless people.”

“I just think a hard look at the real needs of this town should be considered for these funds,” Hitchcock added.

Tori Ball agreed the city should be investing in other areas, including low-income housing and education for mental health providers and public health practitioners.

“I’m writing to express my opposition to the city’s use of COVID relief funds from the American Rescue Plan Act for police resources,” Ball wrote in an email to the city.

“This pandemic has ravaged citizens’ mental health and financial well-being and these funds present an opportunity to invest in a more equitable future,” Ball added. “To use these funds in a way so regressive and lacking in creativity as buying police equipment would not be representative of this town as I know it.”

After its continued discussion, the council decided to postpone a vote on the Taser purchase until Police Chief Thomas Olson returned to duty to provide more information on the department’s use of Tasers.