Prince William County supervisors are considering a last-minute request for body worn cameras and new tasers for sheriff’s deputies. The proposal appears to have the backing of the board, but some supervisors said more information was needed about the request for new tasers.
The sheriff’s department is the only law enforcement agency in Prince William County that does not currently have body worn cameras. Sheriff Glen Hill (R) has requested funding for body worn cameras during the last four budget cycles but said the request had been put off due to budget constraints, he said in an interview last week.
Hill wrote a letter urging the Prince William Board of County Supervisors to fund body worn cameras and tasers several days before the board’s annual budget markup last Tuesday, April 20. The proposal, a package deal from Axon, is estimated to cost $1.8 million over a five-year period.
During their April 20 meeting, supervisors were in broad agreement on funding body worn cameras, but some said they were unsure of the need for new tasers for sheriff’s deputies. Supervisors also said they were unsure whether sheriff’s deputies already had tasers, or if the request would give them tasers for the first time.
“I feel like we don’t have enough information,” said at-large Chair Ann Wheeler (D).
In an interview after the meeting, Hill said sheriff’s deputies have been equipped with tasers since 2005.
Several Republican supervisors said they were strongly in favor of purchasing new tasers for the sheriff’s department because they said they would help deputies enforce eviction orders in the county.
Evictions are taking place at a slower pace than normal because of a federal eviction ban put in place at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. But many advocates have warned that evictions could skyrocket when the moratorium is lifted on June 30.
Supervisor Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville, said, “The eviction process is becoming more and more dangerous.”
“My fear is that once [the eviction moratorium] is lifted that the sheriff’s office is going to see a spike in serving those, all the more reason to equip him and his deputies with what they need,” Lawson said.
Supervisor Yesli Vega, R-Coles, a former Prince William County Sheriff’s deputy and former police officer, said tasers for the sheriff’s department are a necessary option for deputies to use when serving eviction and court notices.
“They’re absolutely needed when we’re talking about less lethal options,” Vega said. “When you are serving evictions notices or other court notices, you do have folks that are not very welcoming so you may be faced with an individual possibly trying to charge a deputy.”
According to Sheriff’s Department Maj. Terry Fearnley, however, the sheriff’s department has used a taser only one time while serving an eviction, in 2016. Prior to the pandemic, the sheriff’s office conducted more than 1,000 evictions annually in the area.
Hill said tasers are not used very often during evictions. But, he added, tasers are “a no brainer” for law enforcement.
“Anything that we can use that is ‘less lethal,’ I’m for it,” Hill said.
The proposed new tasers would replace the department’s existing tasers with a newer model, known as the Axon 7. The new model will sync with deputy’s body worn cameras, also made by Axon. The body worn camera will turn on automatically if a taser is deployed.
The sheriff’s office provides security at the county’s judicial center, transports prisoners from the local jail and serves eviction and other court notices.
Fearnley said sheriff’s deputies have only deployed their tasers 12 times in the line of duty since 2005. But he said the department’s current tasers are outdated, and several are no longer working.
“I have deputies now that do not have tasers because they are broken and unable to be used,” Fearnley said.
Police use of tasers have contributed to at least 500 deaths in the United States since 2010, according to an April 23 report from USA Today. A 29-year-old Manassas man died after Prince William County police tried to subdue him with a taser in 2011.
Prince William County supervisors will vote to adopt their annual budget on Tuesday, April 27. Funding for body worn cameras and tasers for the sheriff’s department are included within the proposed budget as of last Friday, April 23.
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