Second guessing for fun and profit is an avocation practiced by those content to ride the bench and carp from the sidelines. There, they are ever insulated from responsibility for any consequences of after-the-fact advice. This 20/20 hindsight is endemic to the everyday species of sports fan, political critic or employee, while those who prognosticate for money prosper in the ranks of sportswriters, columnists and assorted other media members.
With the new year ahead, change is likely to be on our minds. Some of us think about changes promised by newly elected officials. Some of us ponder how to change ourselves for the better through resolutions. The civic-minded among us are likely to contemplate how to change Columbia and Boone County for the better.
This is an invitation to share your thoughts in the coming weeks with other readers.
Tell us: What kind of change do you want to see in 2009?
Submissions will be published at ColumbiaMissourian.com and in the Missourian starting on New Year's Day. All we ask is that you sign your name and provide a telephone number (not printed; just there in case we have a question).
To send in your submission:
Postal delivery: Letter to Editor, P.O. Box 917, Columbia, MO 65205
Questions? Send an e-mail to Jake Sherlock, opinion editor, at SherlockJ@missouri.edu.
For the most part, armchair quarterbacking provides a certain entertainment and/or educational value in that debate is encouraged, possibly resulting in the creation of original thought. And it is relatively harmless, the exception being when practiced by those influential intelligentsia with an ax to grind that is at odds with the public interest or safety – much of which is eased by adult leadership.
However, there are some issues that refuse to conform to the rule of common sense and remain in the realm of those born of good intentions but infected by untenable consequences. Such a situation continues to plague our fair city in the opposition to the police department’s use of Tasers by a coalition of community activists that include Grass Roots Organizing, the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union.
While the activists are entitled to their opposition, they share several commonalities, among which is a lack of comprehension of the circumstances in which an officer may be faced with a deadly force situation; cherry picking of conflicting, uncorroborated statistics to create a false picture of the lethality of the weapon; and an insatiable desire for publicity at the expense of the police. Their hostility to this nonlethal weapon was made public last summer. The City Council and the police department are developing an oversight review board; accordingly, the latest Grass Roots Organizing press conference appears to be an exercise in self promotion.
More than 12,700 of the 18,000-plus law enforcement agencies in the U. S. carry the Taser. Perhaps there are injuries and fatalities attributable to the use of this less-than-lethal weapon; however, the statistics quoted by Amnesty International and the ACLU fail the test of accuracy. When pressed to document their claims, they do not. Conversely, when autopsies exonerate it as the cause of death, they do not adjust numbers. Amnesty International claims 300 documented deaths in the United States since 2001 while the ACLU cites 148 deaths at the hands of U.S. and Canadian police since 1999 – not very reassuring arithmetic.
Public safety is best left in the hands of trained professionals. There is a vehicle for individual citizens and groups to register opinions, complaints or trepidation over methodology or performance. This has been amply afforded through the media, city government, the police department's professional standards unit and the right to assemble. The Taser question surfaced properly and is being dealt with by the City Council and the Columbia police, appropriately inasmuch as they have responsibility for the public safety.
It should be reasonable to assume that, in confrontations with criminals, unruly individuals or similar disturbances, the officer on scene is the best judge of the method and the amount of force necessary to apprehend, subdue or restore order among participants. It would also appear logical that the officer have options at his disposal other than the use of deadly force. Even the least bright among us must concede that a policeman’s service weapon is far more lethal than the Taser.
We can agree that any death or injury, regardless of weapon deployed, is a tragedy. However, police departments equipped with Tasers report officer deaths/injuries reduced by percentages of 23 to 93 percent. In the pre-Taser era from 1900 to 1999, nearly 7,000 police officers were shot and killed while 231 others were beaten or stabbed to death.
Clearly, in those law enforcement agencies armed also with that less-than-lethal weapon, the survivability and the freedom from serious injury are much greater for both the officer and perpetrator than in those armed only with standard weapons. Additionally, if Columbia police officers enjoy sufficient public confidence to be entrusted with pistols and shotguns, is it not inanely foolish that they be denied anonlethal alternative?
The posturing and carping by the chattering classes notwithstanding, the Columbia Police Department has the confidence of the vast majority of its citizens. Does anyone recall the last time someone was attacked on the street or at home and dialed an activist?
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.