JEFFERSON CITY — The cops at Missouri casinos could soon start packing Tasers.
House and Senate budget negotiators agreed Thursday to spend $32,438 to buy 24 of the stun guns — enough to place two at each of the state’s 12 casinos.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol, which sought the Tasers for its officers, said they are needed to quell violent situations that sometimes erupt as gamblers are drinking alcohol and losing money.
Last year alone, there were 41 instances where officers had to use force in casinos, though none resulted in gunfire, said Capt. Kemp Shoun, the patrol’s budget director.
The casino industry isn’t too pleased about the Tasers, though it did not actively lobby against them, said Mike Winter, executive director of the Missouri Gaming Association.
“I don’t know that being an entertainment venue, like we are, that we see the need for them to be on our properties,” Winter said.
The concern, he added, is that the Tasers might be used inappropriately on casino patrons.
The Highway Patrol stressed that its officers are well-trained and assured that would not occur.
When confronting suspects or dangerous situations, the first option still is to use verbal commands, followed by physical force and, as a last resort, a gun, public safety officials said.
“The Taser is merely a tool within that use of force continuum that is short of having to shoot somebody,” said Mark James, director of the Department of Public Safety.
Former patrol Superintendent Roger Stottlemyer now is the deputy director of enforcement at the Missouri Gaming Commission, which regulates the casino industry. Stottlemyer said the Tasers were a good idea because they are a less lethal option than firearms.
The Highway Patrol has 110 officers assigned to casinos, compared with about 800 troopers who patrol the roads.
The road officers don’t have Tasers, largely because it would be expensive to purchase a stun gun for each of them. The patrol officers at casinos should be able to share the Tasers. Also, road troopers can more easily use pepper spray to control troublesome people because they are outside. Using pepper spray in casinos likely would affect other patrons, the patrol said.