City Council requests report on Taser restrictions

Tuesday, July 8, 2008 | 10:32 p.m. CDT; updated 8:50 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 26, 2008

This article has been changed to clarify the positions of Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala.

COLUMBIA — It was a one-two punch: Brenda Procter of Grass Roots Organizing (GRO) used her scheduled public comment time at the City Council meeting last night to show a disturbing video of four Taser uses. Edward Berg, also of GRO, followed with a statement urging the council to either reconsider its approval of Taser purchases, or adopt clear restrictions for police Taser use.

Mayor Darwin Hindman brought the subject to the table during the unscheduled public comment time at the end of the meeting. After a motion by Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala, the council officially requested a report from the Columbia Police Department outlining its policy on appropriate Taser use and the amount of training Taser-equipped officers receive.

But he also made it clear that the city would not reconsider its June 2 approval of Taser purchases.

The Columbia Police Department purchased 40 X26 Tasers with $30,000 of grant money from the U.S. Department of Justice in June, bringing the total number of Tasers in service to 78. Training is planned for September.

“There is a definite place for these in the police department,” Hindman said.

The mayor said he was impressed by GRO members’ presentation and thought Berg had a good point in asking for more definite rules governing Taser use.

“I want to make sure the rules are good and tight,” he said.

Skala, who said he fully supports equipping officers with Tasers, agreed. He said his daughter, who recently graduated from a police academy in Columbus, Ohio, had been Tasered as part of her training.

“She said it was an awful five seconds,” Skala said, adding, however, that she found the experience invaluable in helping her make decisions about when the use of Tasers is appropriate.

Though he saw the video as an emotional representation of Taser abuse, Skala said he does believe the devices carry the potential for abuse, both by offenders and by police. He supported the idea of asking police to submit their Taser use policy to council. His motion also asked for records on police department diversity training and professional development.

Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser urged Skala and the mayor to take a step back and be sure not to base decisions about Tasers on the video, which she said did not provide enough information about why the subjects were being Tasered.

“We should be hesitant as politicians to frame police department policy,” she said.

Nauser also pointed out that she had seen no indication of Taser abuse in Columbia at this point.

Interim Police Chief Tom Dresner said the police department has had Tasers in service for the last three years and has not received any filed complaints from anyone who has been Tasered.

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