Guest column: Taser regulations must be adopted by the Columbia Police Department

Monday, July 21, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:49 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 26, 2008

Are Tasers the answer?

On June 2 the Columbia City Council approved the purchase of 40 additional Taser guns for the Police Department from funds provided under a federal grant applicable to any kind of law enforcement equipment — not just weapons. Chief Randy Boehm recommended Tasers, and the City Council unanimously voted yes. We commend both the City Council and the Police Department for attempting to provide our police officers with non-lethal weapons, but we do not believe that the Taser is non-lethal.

Amnesty International has documented 300 deaths in the United States since 2001 for persons Tasered by the police and has called for a moratorium on the use of such weapons. I share Amnesty International’s alarm that “Tasers are being used as tools of routine force — rather than as weapons of last resort” and that “rigorous, independent, impartial study of their use and effects is urgently needed.”

The Columbia Police Department wants to arm all its officers with an X26 Taser. This Taser shoots a high-voltage shock wave of 50,000 volts, which lasts five seconds each time the trigger is pulled. This shock will knock most victims to the ground, cause head to toe involuntary muscle contractions, loss of body control and sensations such as extreme pain and fatigue.

Television and Internet videos show hundreds of examples where police have used this weapon by Tasering individuals for minor offenses such as refusing to obey an order, talking back to a police officer or committing traffic violations. Police Tasering has also occurred against activists peacefully protesting and college students doing pranks. Do we want this happening in our town?

Tasering creates fear, conflict, anger, resentment and hatred of the police while destroying trust, respect and community cooperation, the most effective crime-fighting weapons.

How are other communities dealing with the Taser controversy? Some responsible communities like Georgia’s DeKalb Police, Fort Wayne, Ind., Newark, Calif., and Dolton, Ill., decided not to buy them or shelved them after further investigation.

Other places have recognized the potential for abuse and adopted strict procedures that prevent Taser guns being used against pregnant women; children; the elderly; people with heart disease and other serious health problems; frail or disabled people; those who are intoxicated and/or under the influence of drugs; the mentally ill; persons standing in water, in crowds, at heights, running machinery, driving, or near flammables. Other laws mandate that a Taser dart should not be deployed at the chest, face, eyes, neck or groin areas and that no one is to be Tasered more than twice. At this point in time, Columbia does not have many of these vital safety guards.

The Associated Press reports on June 7, under the headline “Federal jury awards $6 million in Taser death lawsuit,” that Richard Heston, 40 years old, died after police officers repeatedly shocked him with Taser guns. “The jury found that Taser International had failed to warn police that its Taser guns could be dangerous when used on people under the influence of drugs or in conjunction with chest compressions. ... An autopsy found that Heston died from a combination of methamphetamine intoxication, an enlarged heart due to long-term drug abuse, and Taser shocks.” We do not want our Columbia Police Department or our city officials to risk being sued due to Taser deaths and injuries.

GRO-Grass Roots Organizing, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the American Civil Liberties Union, Peace Haven International, the Mid-MO Chapter of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and the Fellowship Of Reconciliation have asked the City Council to rescind its decision of June 2 to purchase more Taser guns and to allow public input on this issue.

If Tasers are to continue to be used by the Columbia Police Department, the City Council should adopt, among other restrictions, the following:

1. Establish the standard that Taser guns should be used only when there is “imminent harm to the public or the safety of the police officer.”

2. Adopt strict guidelines describing when police may use or will be prohibited from using Tasers. The police have adopted some regulations. Now we need community input to adopt stricter regulations to protect us. Perhaps a task force should be established to make recommendations. I would be willing to serve on such a task force.

3. Require accountability for the use of Tasers, similar to those imposed on firearms. Mandate video taping of Taser use and make all reports of Taser use open to the public.

4. Provide extensive training with revised training materials that recognize the dangers involved with Taser use and is very specific as to when such weapons shall and shall not be used.

5. Provide medical attention, evaluation and treatment for anyone who is Tasered.

Note: TASER is an acronym for Thomas A. Smith Electronic Rifle.

Ed Berg is a Columbia resident. He wrote this as a representative of GRO-Grass Roots Organizing.

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Dan Peters July 21, 2008 | 12:45 p.m.

When stating “Amnesty International has documented 300 deaths in the United States since 2001 for persons Tasered by the police…” you are not only misquoting Amnesty International, you are perpetuating a myth…by implying Taser shocks cause death.

A.I. has documented 300 deaths in the U.S. since 2001 AFTER persons have been Tasered. A.I. is also implying that the Tasers caused the deaths. A.I. is factually correct only in their timeline. Yes, many people have died AFTER being hit with a Taser; in fact EVERYONE will die AFTER being hit with a Taser. But, it may take 50 years for the death to happen. Do you understand the point here and the false implication that you are conveying to the misinformed public? Just because one event preceded another, it does not mean the first event CAUSED the other.

Even A.I. admits that autopsy reports have not implicated the Taser in these deaths and that medical examiners have attributed other factors as the cause of death in these “300 documented” cases. But, by spinning the facts and keeping “technically” correct with their timeline, A.I. is succeeding in its attempt to perpetuate the myth…that Tasers cause death.

In-custody deaths are a fact of life and the introduction of Tasers has not increased this in-custody deaths. In fact, the opposite has occurred. The reason more and more police forces are deploying the Taser is because more and more police forces understand the statistics have proven that the Taser saves lives and reduces inquiries for police officers and suspects.

The Taser only puts out .004 amps or less than 1 joule. (the amperage is what injures and kills…not volts). By comparison, a defibrillator puts out between 150 to 400 joules. You can get a shock from rubbing your feet on your carpet and touching a doorknob of between 35,000 and 50,000 volts and you can go to the science center and get a 20 million volt shock to make a kid’s hair stand on his head. But, we all know that these high voltage shocks due not injury or kill. The same goes with the Taser.

Like any other product , there can be side effects. Yes, a man who is hit by a Taser while hiding in a tree can fall, hit his head and die. But that does NOT mean the Taser CAUSED the death, the Taser (like in the case of Richard Heston) was a contributing factor. ..not the direct cause of the death. If you were to “dig deeper” you would be pressing for MORE Tasers instead of lobbying against them because TASERS DO SAVE LIVES. The benefits outweigh the risks and that is why the Taser makes sense.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr December 22, 2008 | 5:12 a.m.

>>> The benefits outweigh the risks and that is why the Taser makes sense. <<<

Tasers do not make sense by far when deployed against the Mentally Ill or any citizen with a possible medical condition where the police are not highly trained in spotting these types of issues.

Your statement is wrong on so many levels of common decency it is quite revolting to contemplate on any level you possibly think of as humane treatment of humans in crisis.

There are always alternatives and the Taser should only be used right along side of the service firearm as "the very last means or tool to be used" in any law enforcement tool box of resources.

This simple principle is what the Crisis Intervention Team Program will help to teach and instill into the officers of the CPD in our future.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz December 22, 2008 | 10:31 a.m.

If you try to equate the Taser with a firearm, then the police will stop using a Taser and instead shoot someone when they feel threatened. If a police officer believes their life, or another citizen's, is in danger, they will err on using the gun instead of the Taser. Actually, I would believe that is how it probably works now.

If someone who is mentally ill or may be mentally ill makes a move toward an officer or threatens someone, they will be tased just as before, even with the addition of CIT training. Hopefully this training will reduce such usage of the Taser, but it is not going to eliminate it, and those who may be mentally ill are not going to be off-limits to the use of a Taser in appropriate situations.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr December 22, 2008 | 11:18 a.m.

John Schultz where did I ever say anywhere here or on the Trib Board or any blog/forum/news article that I have ever posted on that the Taser would be eliminated.

This is more false conjectures not only you are tossing out about my posts and statements but Mark Foeking and Rick Gurley have done as well and others who are uneducated on the great things these C.I.T.'s can accomplish.

They might not be miracle workers but they sure are better than what is going on now.

Unless you have done a mass review and research on the long term and long running present C.I.T.'s across this country and read alot of the good that has come out of these C.I.T.'s once again John Schultz you and those mentioned above are only trying to toss discredit upon not only myself but this program that is very valuable to every citizen in Boone County.

One would think as the chair person for the Libertarian Party here in Boone County you would not be posting as you do.

John Schultz you do not know what I have rad,studied or researched but yet you come here trying to present to all that I have not done so.

It is not hard to go to any major internet search engine and type in varying word strings to pull up alot of results on the same subject of interest to be able to look at and understand it in a consensus point of view.

There are hundreds of reports about the use of C.I.T.'s by countless clinical and rehabilitational facilities,licensed general practitioners ,clinical psychologists, councilors,police officers themselves, judges and a host more who are in law enforcement and the medical field to back up the use of these C.I.,T.'s more that you John Schultz can ever be accredited for and it is all published online for anybody to research.

So by your logic and those mentioned above you do not think NAMI knows what it is saying and working towards by fully backing these new C.I.T.'s?

There is an old saying John Schultz that fits you quite well and the two mentioned above:

"Me thinks all of you protesteth too much".

(Report Comment)
John Schultz December 22, 2008 | 12:00 p.m.

Chuck, it's too windy outside for additional bluster. If you want to make the Taser "the very last means or tool to be used"" then it sure sounds to me like you are putting it and a firearm on the same level. If you give that choice to a police officer and tell them they can only use one or the other in the face of imminent danger, they will be more likely to go for the gun instead of a Taser. Think about it, if you were in a life or death situation which would you use? That is all I was saying, no matter what additional words or thoughts you tried to cram into my post.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr December 22, 2008 | 12:42 p.m.
This comment has been removed.
John Schultz December 22, 2008 | 1:29 p.m.
This comment has been removed.

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