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Leave decision on Tasers to the pros

Tuesday, December 9, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:34 p.m. CST, Monday, February 2, 2009

 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.

 

Change in 2009: What do you want to see?

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:

E-mail: editor@ColumbiaMissourian.com
FAX: 882-5702
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.


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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.


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Comments

Charles Dudley Jr December 10, 2008 | 8:35 a.m.

So you do not want citizens to be able to speak up on this type of issue is what I get from your ranting of an article here.

Pathetic. With out citizen/advocacy input on issues you might as well declare yourself a dictator just like Fidel Castro is and further push society back into the dark ages.

Seriously some of the &#$% you write here is really only right wing propaganda aimed at wanting to keep the public at large quiet when they need to be speaking out all the more on these types of issues that effect us all whether you realize that or not.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand December 10, 2008 | 8:48 a.m.

Strange, considering that you like to argue that only those who are disabled are capable of truly understanding the needs of the disabled. But in the case of Tasers (and lots of other topics), you consider yourself to be an expert even though you have no experience in law enforcement.

(Report Comment)
Linda Green December 17, 2008 | 2:12 p.m.

Just as war is too important to leave up to generals, TASER use is too important to leave up to the police and to the for-profit TASER  company, which has been running the show.   In a community meeting, I  heard the police officer, who is instructing local police in TASER use  say, "TASERs are safe".   In the face of the local serious injuries  and the nearby death associated with police TASER use, I find that  officer's statement chilling and grossly inaccurate.

Police TASER use is under scrutiny in communities all over the U.S.,  as we try to come to terms with a weapon that has not been  sufficiently tested, and through experience, is proving much more  dangerous than we originally thought.   It is fine to look at police  injuries before and after the introduction of TASERs, but we must not  neglect the other side of the coin--injuries to the public by police  use of TASERs.

It takes an informed and involved public and accurate and transparent information to preserve and run a democracy. Checks and balances are built into our governing system, and it is entirely appropriate that all these democratic principles apply to the public's desire to have the facts and input on police TASER use in our community.    We have the right and even the obligation as citizens to question whatever governs us, including police TASER use, especially  when drastic problems involving the public's rights are apparent.     We must preserve our democratic citizens' rights to gain accurate and  complete information, to require regulations sufficient to protect the  public, as well as the police, and to insist that those regulations  are followed.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr December 17, 2008 | 2:25 p.m.

Linda Green well said and this county and city need more people to speak up as you have done here concerning the obvious problems with this newest of fashion weapons.

Keep on advocating for that change we can all see and more importantly believe in.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking December 17, 2008 | 3:44 p.m.

Linda:

Here is a study from 2005 that seems scholarly and free from commercial influence:

http://www.theiacp.org/research/CuttingE...

The sponsor of this conference was Aegis Industries, who makes military communication equipment:

http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/...

In the report, they state that the odds of a shock weapon causing death is no more than 1 in 1000, and more realistically one in 100,000. This puts it in the realm of pepper spray or capsule, which Amnesty International has blamed for 113 deaths up to 2005. Tasers certainly cause less lasting injury than either batons or firearms.

If there is an issue with unjustifiable use of any police weapon (not just Tasers), the solution lies not with the tool, but with that police department's policy. Tasers are a tool, nothing more, and one with certain advantages (and disadvantages) over more conventional police weapons.

DK

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr December 17, 2008 | 7:00 p.m.

Mark why are you not presenting as well that some tests have shown that Tasers sometimes can give between a 47% to almost 58% I think it is more of a shock than the manufacturer stipulates.

If I remember right this was a test of 44 Tasers where some failed to discharge,some were not fully giving a full charge and some gave an over charge as the percentages above show.

Take note here I am not a fan of Fox News by far this is just where I found this story:
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,4633...

I really do not think that is very acceptable standards when it comes to human life.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking December 17, 2008 | 8:11 p.m.

The article also said these (the "high-firing" ones) were some of the oldest instruments they tested. They were some of the first ones made. It is quite possible there were manufacturing issues that have been corrected. Or something. There are many possibilities here that I don't have enough information to evaluate.

The point remains, that in actual use, the risk of death from taser deployment is something between 1 in 1000 and 1 in 100,000, and that number compares favorably with other weapons that police use. You can't remove risk from everything, and risk must always be viewed in context. Few people that have not had risk assessment training understand that, however.

DK

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro December 17, 2008 | 10:37 p.m.
This comment has been removed.
Ray Shapiro December 18, 2008 | 4:01 p.m.

Response to J. Karl Miller:
You say: Does anyone recall the last time someone was attacked on the street or at home and dialed an activist?
I say: Does CPD get letters saying, "Thanks for tasering me. It really shocked me back into reality!"
You say: "..hostility to this nonlethal weapon was made public last summer. The City Council and the police department are developing an oversight review board; accordingly,"
I say: We can all have our own beefs with NAACP, GRO and ACLU, but don't never, ever try to shut down the public's right to be involved, participate and be concerned about who, how and why we get shot.
I say: If the "professionals" had done a better job from the get-go, the city council and police would have had the oversight review board, in place, before handing out tasers.
(It's also only just now, that CPD is addressing Crisis Intervention Team training to maybe soften the traditional police motto of "ask-tell-make compliant" to "Calm-Investigate-Assess-Facilitate.")
I ask: Did you ever consider that at the city council meeting it was shared that in effect, 32 of the 48 "tased" could have beeen diagnosed as mentally ill or be dual-diagnosable. (Do you even care?)
Many of these folks, being tased, probably would have been spared a "lightening bolt through their nervous systems" if the officers were already part of a Crisis Intervention Team.
I say: It seems that some of our leadership has been demonstrating how to "back peddle."
It saddens me to say: Professionals have an obligation to do it right before handing out the new weapon of choice.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr December 18, 2008 | 5:12 p.m.

Great post ray shapiro and that is exactly the point of:

Why didn't they have an oversight committee in place before they issued these weapons?

Why didn't they look more into a Crisis Intervention Team in the past?

I am not talking about Crisis Negotiations either but Crisis Intervention since these type of specially trained groups of officers have been around for a very long time in cities smaller than Columbia and bigger as well than Columbia.

Why wasn't more research done into what these Taser weapons could do as well before they were given to officers?

There is so many hind sight questions about these Tasers being issued that are now only being addressed only due to public pressure from all sides of the issue.

Isn't this what our City Council is for is to help the citizens and advise the citizens by conducting in depth research into new projects before they are implemented?

If you really want to know my opinion I think everybody in law enforcement and the City Council Members past and present completely dropped the ball on this entire issue.

Maybe somebody should be looking into some way to investigate or to future ensure that our City Council is performing the "will of the citizens" instead of the "self will and self acknowledgment" as a whole that is presented now.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz December 18, 2008 | 7:37 p.m.

Maybe you and the other citizens of Columbia dropped the ball by not bringing this matter up earlier? The ball bounces both ways.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking December 18, 2008 | 7:44 p.m.

ray shapiro sez:

"I say: Does CPD get letters saying, "Thanks for tasering me. It really shocked me back into reality!"

How many violent subjects taken into custody, by force, send letters that say "Thanks for beating/peppering/shooting me! I'm sorry for being such a jerk!"

?

Come on...

DK

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro December 18, 2008 | 9:19 p.m.

Mark:
The point I was trying to make was that tasers are not good electo-shock treatments for the depressed and the mentally ill. It was a stretch in my response to Miller's attempt to "be-little" the value of actvists and my preface in introducing the issue of the "emotional frame of mind" of those who are being tased. He made no mention of this in his article and I wanted to bring CIT to the forefront. I had posted an original response to his article, last night, and someone at the Missourian took it down. I just used a different approach and style to get my message across this time. Personally, I think my original response to this article was more poignant. So too did someone else, as it was removed from this site.

I might as well as also paraphrase a comment made on the Trib
board's "Moberly man tased and Dead" thread, (which is one of several taser related ongoing threads). The gist of this comment is attributed to a retired LAPD officer who's visiting Columbia:...if politicians permit competent police departments to hire a professional and highly trained police agency, there will be more than enough experienced professional cops to take suspects into custody without routinely harming them. If politicians had the competence, integrity, and patience to explain how and why cops do what they do, AND if community activists and concerned citizens had the intellectual capacity, moral integrity, competence and patience to learn and not exploit use-of-force incidents for political gain, there would be more than enough cops left on the police agency to competently protect the community. Unfortunately, politicians and community activists usually take the easy way out. As a result, many experienced cops avoid chasing violent suspects and rookie cops are too inexperienced, emotionally charged, and politically naïve to restrain themselves. ANY politician or community that wants a competent police agency will learn the history... .Those who do not understand history are condemned to repeat it.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr December 19, 2008 | 3:01 a.m.

>>>> John Schultz Maybe you and the other citizens of Columbia dropped the ball by not bringing this matter up earlier? The ball bounces both ways. <<<

Well then include yourself in the mix there big boy. :)

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking December 19, 2008 | 8:28 a.m.

ray said:

"The point I was trying to make was that tasers are not good electo-shock treatments for the depressed and the mentally ill."

Actually electroconvulsive therapy and tasers are two different things. In ECT, an electric pulse is applied across the brain (under anesthesia) to induce a seizure. An ECT seizure is mediated by the nervous system, not the electric current. A taser causes muscles to contract independently of the nervous system. It's like touching an ungrounded spark plug wire.

Apples and oranges...

DK

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro December 19, 2008 | 9:08 a.m.

Hey DK:
If someone with no sense of humor gives me apples and oranges, I make fruit salad.
I never said my opening line was a good one, I said my original posting was taken down by the Missourian.
Of course tasers are not being used as "therapeutic devices." They're weapons.
-Ray S.

(Report Comment)

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