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Activists speak out against the purchase of Tasers for Columbia police officers

Monday, June 30, 2008 | 9:55 p.m. CDT; updated 8:51 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 26, 2008

COLUMBIA — Four Columbia advocacy organizations showed videos Monday morning of women being Tasered by police officers to make this point: the City Council should reconsider its June 2 decision to approve the purchase of enough Tasers to arm most Columbia patrol officers.

The videos showed women screaming after law enforcement officers Tasered them ­— in one case repeatedly. Audience members gathered at the Labor Temple on Garth Avenue gasped in response.

IF YOU GO

“Are Tasers the Answer?” Public Meeting 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 15 at 611 N. Garth Ave. (Labor Temple) For more information call 443-4476 or 581-8585

BY THE NUMBERS

38 Columbia officers are currently equipped with Tasers. 78 Columbia officers total will be equipped after the purchase. 25-30 Columbia officers will not have Tasers after the purchase. Injuries to Columbia officers (number of equipped officers) 25 in 2004 (0 equipped) 22 in 2005 (2 equipped) 17 in 2006 (started with 22 equipped and ended year with 38) 5 in 2007 (38 equipped) 1 so far in 2008 (38 equipped)

DEPLOYMENTS

In 2007, there were 57 total deployments: 27 in response to violent suspects, 11 for people resisting arrest, 10 to stop suicide attempts, eight in response to people obstructing justice and one for an uncooperative person during an arrest on a warrant. So far in 2008, there have been 29 deployments: 18 to subdue violent suspects, four in response to people attempting to obstruct justice, three when suspects resisted arrest, two in arrests of uncooperative people with warrants and two in response to assaults on officers. Since 2005, Columbia police officers have deployed their Tasers more than 150 times. There are four levels of deployments. All the levels have been used by the Columbia Police Department. Level 1: The weapon is removed from its holster and a red light is displayed, with no physical contact made. Level 2: The cartridge is removed and a spark is displayed, with no physical contact made. Level 3: A “drive stun,” during which direct contact is made with one specific muscle group. Level 4: A full deployment, during which physical contact is made and the target is incapacitated for five seconds.

HOW THE TASER WORKS

The Taser X26 Electronic Control Device emits two charged probes at more than 100 miles per hour when fired. These probes transmit a 50,000-volt shock of electrical pulses into the body, affecting the sensory and motor functions of the nervous system. When someone is Tasered, the subject’s muscles contract for approximately 5 seconds and he/she tends to fall to the ground. The X26 has a maximum range of 35 feet.


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After the videos were shown, Ed Berg, a member of Grass Roots Organizing, and other speakers commended City Council members for seeking non-lethal alternatives.

“I’m not opposed to (the Taser) if it’s really a safe weapon,” Berg said.

But Berg and members of other advocacy organizations are not sure that Tasers truly belong in the category of non-lethal weapons.

“As you saw in the videos, one of two things happen: Their muscles contract like a severe charley horse all over their bodies, and they fall down,” Berg said. That makes it harder for people to comply with police orders.

“We just don’t believe that the Taser is the answer,” Berg said.

GRO, representatives of the Mid-Missouri American Civil Liberties Union, the Mid-Missouri Fellowship of Reconciliation and the NAACP want the City Council to reconsider, if not rescind, its decision. A scroll containing the names of 350 people who have died in the U.S. after being Tasered was ceremoniously unrolled to reiterate what they said is the key issue: safety.

No city officials attended the morning news conference. But reached by telephone after the event, Columbia Mayor Darwin Hindman said the public had ample opportunity to weigh in on the decision.

“Every opportunity for discussion was provided, but nobody called for it,” Hindman said. “I’m satisfied with the decision.”

Interim Police Chief Tom Dresner said that the police department is proceeding with the addition of 40 X26 Tasers to its inventory — bringing the total to 78 — with training planned for September.

“We think it’s unfortunate that GRO has decided that this is a problem,” Dresner said. “The Taser is a tool that helps police officers nationwide avoid violent confrontations and lessens the injuries that result from them.”

“We’ve had this tool in service for the last three years and we haven’t received a single complaint from anyone who was Tasered,” Dresner said.

But Berg said he’s concerned about how police officers use the weapons. Should the City Council’s decision remain unchanged, Berg said he plans to ask the council to adopt strict procedures for officer accountability. If or when a civilian review board is established, Berg said he hoped it would oversee police use of Tasers.

Dresner said that officers are already required to file a report whenever a Taser is used. Additionally, there is technology inside of the device that logs usage information.

“There is a computer inside of it and every time the voltage is triggered, it records the date and time,” Dresner said. “No one in our police department has the ability to change that data. That’s one of the safeguards built in against abuse.”

Another safeguard involves the Columbia Police Department’s Use of Force policy, which advises officers to aim Tasers at the subject’s back, legs or other major muscle groups.

Dresner added that officers will use the Tasers when faced with resistance.

“As soon as we say the magic words, ‘You’re under arrest,’ the law requires compliance,” he said.

Berg said he also hoped the police department would further define situations appropriate for Taser use.

“If an officer is trying to give someone a ticket and they refuse, it’s not appropriate,” Berg said.

Dresner said that he and a certified Taser instructor will attend GRO’s next meeting on Tasers at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 15 at the Labor Temple.


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Comments

Tom O'Sullivan July 1, 2008 | 8:07 a.m.

I think the GRO and the ACLU once again showed they are nothing but an advocacy group for criminals. Both groups are completely uninformed about TASER use. Mayor Hindman and the City Council did the right thing by allowing the use of TASERS.

Tom O'Sullivan
1407 Rosemary Lane

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