Council hears more comments about Tasers

Monday, December 15, 2008 | 10:19 p.m. CST; updated 10:24 p.m. CST, Monday, December 15, 2008

COLUMBIA — While sandwiched between two posters of aimed Tasers, four residents spoke to the City Council during its Monday night meeting about the Columbia Police Department’s possible misuse of Tasers, especially in relation to minorities.

“Judge, jury and electrocutioner: stop Taser abuse,” read one sign created by Linda Green, a member of Grass Roots Organizers. Green said her goal is for the council to create a citizen oversight board, not just a review board.

Ken Green, a member of GRO, who spoke at the meeting, said this oversight board would benefit the citizens, the city and police.

The department is acting inappropriately by using Tasers on people they shouldn’t, said speaker Ed Berg, a volunteer with GRO. He offered solutions such as revamping training to focus on scenario training and defusing situations, improving oversight through an audit system and having more exact guidelines for officers.

When Katherine Murrie of GRO addressed the council, she said she was concerned that of 48 Taser cases released in a report from the police department, 13 of the people on whom the police used a Taser were mentally ill, and 19 people were “under the influence.”

“We are concerned about this population because a lot of them are the homeless we see on the streets,” Murrie said. She would like to see the creation of a crisis intervention team that would include mental health professionals.

“I believe it is racially motivated,” said Lorenzo Lawson, the executive director of Youth Empowerment Zone. He told the council that while blacks are about 10 percent of the population in Columbia, 56 percent of those involved in Taser incidents were black. He also said most of the people the police have used a Taser on live in the First Ward.

“We are giving conflicting messages to our young people by this Tasering situation,” he said. Lawson said he wants Tasers out of the police’s hands, and he questions when the police were given the right to be the “judge and executioner.”

“It makes me scared,” Lawson said.

Members of the coalition — a group consisting of the ACLU, the NAACP, the mid-Missouri chapter of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and GRO — were present at Monday night's meeting to show support.

GRO and other groups have been raising concerns about Taser use for months. Following a Nov. 24 press conference by GRO, the police department released a statement in response to community concern. In that release, Interim Chief of Police Tom Dresner said: “Criticism by those with the comfort of hindsight, a microphone and a Monday morning, but little training in the complexities of modern policing is one of the essentials of democracy. However, until the majority decides otherwise, we must get on with our work."

But citizen groups are asking for changes and think Taser use is inappropriate, Berg said.

“Look at all the years they didn’t have them, and they did a good job,” Lawson said of police.

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John Schultz December 15, 2008 | 11:58 p.m.

I missed part of the opening comments from the first two speakers, but stayed until the end and sounds like the council agrees with part of their proposals and others are non-starters. It pretty much boils down to policies, training, and oversight. I believe the motion passed by the council referred the matter to staff to see what improvements could be made, possibly in comparison with other communities, but it will not be going before the new review board.

I also thought it interested that Karl Skala did get tased, presumably as part of the training review given by CPD, and did not appreciate (my words, not his) the "Taser: Tested and Proven Deadly" sign displayed by the speakers at the beginning of the meeting.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro December 16, 2008 | 1:31 a.m.

When Katherine Murrie of GRO addressed the council, she said she was concerned that of 48 Taser cases released in a report from the police department, 13 of the people on whom the police used a Taser were mentally ill, and 19 people were “under the influence.” Murrie said. She would like to see the creation of a crisis intervention team that would include mental health professionals.

GRO needs to learn how to build bridges and keep track of what's going on in this community.

This afternoon, (Monday), there was a CIT discussion hosted by CPD and attended by community members, CPS and advocates for those with mental health issues and/or substance abuse problems.

From the taser case numbers mentioned in the above article, my math tells me that 32 of the 48 "tased" may have been better off with a CIT response, as presented at today's afteroon meeting.
Community Intervention Team training will not only make for a better cop, but also for a better neighbor and may even help family and business relationships in this community. It was surreal to hear law enforcement personnel use words like compassion, understanding, conflict/resolution, patience and family.

This might threaten some people's ideas aout how substance abusers and emotional/psychiatric situations should be handled, but it really "irked" me to learn that in this immediate area, prison beds contain more of our mentally ill then any of our mental health facilities.

Prison must be a very therapeutic place for these folks and tasers must be an equally shocking experience.

Merry Christmas.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr December 16, 2008 | 2:44 a.m.

Well presented ray shapiro and you are correct about Gro building bridges and staying more up to date on the local blogs,forum boards,new groups and more so they know about these type of special public meetings that are going on.

The C.I.T. Meeting Monday afternoon was a really good experience and more community leaders should look in the future to attend.

(Report Comment)
MARY HUSSMANN December 16, 2008 | 9:46 a.m.

GRO and the Coalition to Control TASERs contacted NAMI twice this summer to ask them if we could come sometime and speak to the group about TASERs and how they are being disproportionately used on people with mental illness. We were told that they were going to have C.I.T. training and that that would be sufficient. We were hoping to have the concern and support of NAMI to join with us to get these TASERs under control. We would like to know of these kind of meetings. Please e-mail me those at and I will pass them on to our volunteer activists.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr December 16, 2008 | 10:48 a.m.

Mary Hussmann I sent you an email with some information.

(Report Comment)
Napsdog Carr December 18, 2008 | 2:32 p.m.

I feel that the mis-use of the Tasers are racially motivated
and in-humane.
II feel that one day someone will die from this cruel act and maybe ... maybe.... more concern will be focused on this act, especially if the person involved ( victum ) is white.


(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro December 18, 2008 | 3:15 p.m.

This is a "shout-out" to Napping Dog Curr:
You can feel however you want, but please read the Missourian a little bit more closely...
(Physical weapons can be considered "not humane," but are used by both law enforcement personnel and criminals, anyway. Statistics will prove out that the police are much more "humane" than the criminals.)
I don't know what you mean by your statement that "mis-use" of tasers is "Racially Motivated." Care to elaborate, dog?

(Report Comment)

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