I have a piece of advice for our Columbia City Council: At your earliest opportunity, which would be Monday night, instruct the city manager to get from the police department all relevant information about the department's use of its Tasers. Then make that information available, free of charge, to the group that's seeking it and to the rest of us, who need it.
It's time we ended the argument between the little band of activists who call themselves Grass Roots Organizing and the big band of resisters we call the Columbia Police Department. Now that the cops on the street have joined the sheriff's deputies in carrying — and using — stun guns, the rest of us have both the right and the need to know just how they've used those weapons for the last three years.
The United States will go to the polls to elect a new president on Nov. 4. Before we go to the polls, let's have a conversation about how our lives here in mid-Missouri will be impacted.
Tell us: How will Columbia be affected by the next president?
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The evidence is clear that, to paraphrase the National Rifle Association, Tasers don't kill or seriously injure people. Cops using Tasers kill or seriously injure people.
Sure, Columbia police have guidelines for deploying Tasers. So, I'm pretty sure, do their counterparts in Moberly, St. Charles County and New York City. Those guidelines weren't followed when our officers tased (that's the verb, I'm told, for shooting somebody with up to 50,000 volts of electricity) the guy on the overpass, causing him to fall off and suffer critical injuries. In Moberly, St. Charles and New York, the recipients of the shocks weren't that lucky. They died.
So it seems entirely reasonable that Ed Berg, a retired lawyer, wants, on behalf of GRO, to know what the police department's files show about how, when, where and why Tasers have been used here since they were introduced in 2005. He keeps asking, in his polite, lawyerly way; and the CPD keeps answering that, yes, it will provide the material if he'll just pay $883, plus copying costs.
The issue, Interim Chief Tom Dresner told me, is not releasing the information. In fact, he said when I asked him, the department itself would benefit from pulling the material together. "We don't keep data in the most efficient way possible," he said. The issue is the cost of doing the compiling. "We don't want to appear to be stonewalling," he said.
You can see why it might appear that way, especially since the state Open Records law says fees "may" be waived when the requests are in the public interest.
When I put all that to City Council leader Jerry Wade, he disappointed me by saying the question of just what is in the public interest is "very slippery."
It's not, really; not in this case. We have a relatively new, high-tech, dangerous weapon in the hands of cops who've demonstrated that they don't always use it correctly. We have a citizens' group asking for information on that use. We have a state law that mandates openness and encourages the waiving of fees.
Everybody -- the cops, the council, the citizens -- would benefit from the prompt compiling and release of this information. If that's not in the public interest, I can't imagine what is.
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.