Columbia Police Department seeks to educate public in Tasers user policies, standards

Wednesday, July 30, 2008 | 10:46 a.m. CDT; updated 1:44 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Columbia Police Professional Standards Unit has begun its extensive investigation into the circumstances surrounding the attempted suicide of Phillip McDuffy last Friday. We'll finish it soon.

When the unit completes its investigation, it's possible that we are going to find errors in our response, mistakes we made, and information that will help us plan accordingly for similar future incidents. And if we do, we're going to show you, admit the mistakes to you, correct them and ask you, the community, to decide if we're reasonable. It's why I released the lengthy statement of general tactical philosophy last Friday, so that the public and the policy makers could have an informed baseline as to what guides us in our decision making. This philosophy serves as the framework by which informed judgments can be made about why we do what we do. McDuffy's attempted suicide was an isolated incident and is in no way indicative of our nearly three year history of successful Taser use. During those three years, our deployments have been a model of success and restraint and have reduced both suspect and officer injuries dramatically.

Significant single incidents should not allow for quick, uninformed reactions that cause significant forced changes to successful programs and policies. Some of our council members are on record saying that they think our policy is sound but that our training is inadequate.

Since there's really no accurate frame of reference for that, I offer an unusual solution.

The end user Taser program for our officers is eight hours in duration. I would like to extend an invitation to the council to attend a special session of the full eight hour program, identical to that given to our officers.

Today I contacted our Taser instructors to have them initiate some evening informational programs of about two hours in length to begin very soon. The programs will give significant detail as to how Tasers work, why they're a good idea and with real detail of the risks involved. The public and the media are invited to those.

Not only would the council then have the most accurate baseline to determine whether our training is adequate or not, but the public would have a much better baseline by which to form opinions about our policy and implementation of this controversial, yet vital less-lethal weapons platform.

I admit, we should have been doing this a long time ago. Yes, now, it's reactive. And I regret that. The council does not need to routinely undergo actual police training. But here, now, I think its time has come.

So, the invitation is open.

I look forward to more meaningful dialogue with the public and the council about this important issue, and now is the time for the Columbia Police Department to take a more leading role in this discussion.

Tom Dresner is the interim chief of police at the Columbia Police Department.



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