Police chief candidates take questions about Tasers, citizen review

Monday, January 12, 2009 | 9:50 p.m. CST; updated 7:28 p.m. CST, Thursday, January 15, 2009
Police chief candidates answered media questions Jan. 12 in the City Council Chamber of the Daniel Boone City Building. Each candidate was allowed 30 minutes to make personal statements and respond to questions. Here, all candidates speak about Tasers and policies they would implement.

This story has been corrected to restore part of Mary Hobbs quote that was deleted during editing.

COLUMBIA — Candidates for Columbia’s police chief fielded questions on crime prevention, police partnership with the community and Taser use during an open media forum on Monday.  

The media gathering and a separate public forum later in the day were part of the next step in the search for a replacement for Police Chief Randy Boehm, who retired in May 2008 after 31 years with the department. On Tuesday, the city manager and staff will have further meetings with candidates.


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The candidates for police chief are Police Chief Kenneth M. Burton of Haltom City, Texas; Police Maj. Christine L. Laughlin of Kansas City; Police Chief Wayne I. McCoy of Blue Springs.; and Todd A. Miller, who was most recently police chief in Terrell, Texas.

Earlier in the day, one of the candidates in the search, Police Chief Michael Clancey of Saluda, S.C., withdrew his name from consideration. According to Slavin Management Consultants, a firm that has helped manage the search, an injury prevented Clancey from flying to Columbia for interviews.

During Monday's gathering, the candidates agreed Tasers can be an effective tool under certain circumstances but said there should be oversight of their use. Most of the candidates have been in a department where there was a Taser review process.

McCoy said that officers in the Blue Springs Police Department have to fill out paperwork every time a Taser is used. The weapon's use should be limited, he said, and officers should be trained on how and when to use them.

Miller agreed there should be a Taser policy in place that clearly states when Tasers should be discharged and includes a review process that looks at how and when the device was used. He said he has seen people injured by Tasers, but he believes they can be effective and less dangerous than other weapons.

"Tasers are another tool in an officer's tool bag that can be effective," Miller said, echoing the sentiments of the other candidates. "If it is abused, it can be a problem."

Burton said citizens should make the ultimate decision about whether their police department uses Tasers. As for internal review processes, holding officers under his command accountable has helped make it clear that their actions will be examined. A force continuum in place in his department, based on a suspect's level of resistance, establishes the parameters for Taser use.

"We want our officers to go home at night; we want them to go home uninjured," Burton said. But, he added, "any time any officer restricts the freedom of our citizens, they need to answer to it."

Laughlin said that in her department, a suspect's level of resistance also determines whether a Taser can be used, and that is when a suspect is “actively resistant." Laughlin also said the formation of such a policy in Columbia should rely heavily on citizen input.

A handful of members of the Coalition to Control Tasers, a group made up of citizens looking into the Columbia Police Department’s use of Tasers, attended the media forum. Many seemed keenly interested in the candidates’ view of Taser use and accountability.

Mary Hussmann, a member of the Coalition to Control Tasers, said that attitudes in the police department about the weapons will be influenced by the new police chief. The group wanted to make sure that candidates knew this was a significant issue in the community, Hussmann said, and that they were aware that it has affected people in disabled and minority populations in Columbia disproportionately.

“We want to make sure that they come in here and know this is an issue that cannot be ignored,” Hussmann said. “The chief needs to be a leader on this issue.”

Another topic all the candidates touched on was the role of citizen review boards in communities. While they seemed to share the view that citizen review processes can be effective, they had slightly different ideas about the need and the effectiveness of these boards.

Laughlin said that there is a Board of Police Commissioners in Kansas City, appointed by the mayor, which has the power to decide whether complaints are justified. The internal affairs division at the police department reviews complaints, but it is the job of the board to decide whether a matter has been adequately investigated. She said she would be comfortable dealing with a review board here in Columbia because she has interacted with one for 26 years.

"I think it is good for officers to have a tremendous amount of contact with citizens," Laughlin said. "I think the chief of police should also have contact with citizens."

Miller agreed that transparency and openness are important for a police department, but he said a citizen review board can only be effective with the right people. He has found that in smaller communities, such as Terrell, Texas, city councils have assumed the responsibility of a citizen review board, but he thinks the best groups are made up of educated residents who look at the limitations of officers and the information available to them at the time of an incident.

McCoy, who worked with a citizen group in Worthington, Ohio, said that review boards can be useful because they can help citizens understand police officers’ jobs and decision-making processes and give police departments a chance to interact with the community. He has found that people are more inclined to support a department’s actions if they understand the nature of police work.

"If we don't have the support of the community, we can't do our jobs," McCoy said.

Later on Monday, in an open forum at the Activities and Recreation Center, a group of citizens met with and questioned candidates about citizen oversight, communication with the community and goals for the department.  Many were concerned with candidates’ views of police oversight and their abilities to move the police department forward.

"We think highly of the Columbia Police Department, and we want a chief who is willing to talk to the community,"said Mary Hobbs, who has lived in Columbia for more than 30 years.

Robin Remington, who is part of the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Now Coalition, said she thinks Laughlin and Miller are the most qualified candidates for the job.

"I wouldn't hesitate to say that Christine is the best candidate," Remington said, adding that Laughlin was goal oriented and was well poised to take over a job in Columbia because of her experience in Kansas City.

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Charles Dudley Jr January 13, 2009 | 10:35 a.m.

Well it is a good thing for the citizens of this city and county to know that these candidates are saying they are open minded about the placements of watch dog community based citizen groups over the police department.

Now once one of them is chosen is to see if they keep their words on this issue and especially in the deployment of Tasers is concerned. It sounds like all of these candidates have more training and restraint than our present trained officers might have now.

Time will that is the big thing.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz January 13, 2009 | 11:28 a.m.

Nice slap at our current police force there Chuck when what the chief candidates were quoted as saying in the article is not far from the current Taser policy.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr January 13, 2009 | 1:38 p.m.

How son you forget John Schultz there was no real Taser Policy until citizens rights groups and the Mental Health Community as a whole stood up and demanded that a Taser Policy be actually looked at.

It is to bad as well John Schultz that through the short sightedness of alot of our elected officials and those complacent as well THERE WAS NO TASER POLICY MANAGEMENT WATCHDOG GROUP IN PLACE before the CPD was issued Tasers.

John Schultz if you are going to talk the smack tell both sides of the story instead of the elitists view points of those that permeate this city with the old boy mentalities of "but this is how we have always done this".

Which have gotten us to many points we are at now of creating citizens watch dog groups consisting of the professionals from the Medical Community and alot of various citizen watch dog groups to call these issues into focus due to the "old boy mentality" that permeates this county and city and holds it back from real progressiveness.

We need new fresh blood with better ideas as our new police chief and even our City Mayor and Councilmen too if we want to go that far.

People who has been out there in the bigger cities with alot more action and who can move CPD and the city more into the future instead of stagnating into the past.

It is time and it obviously has been too long in coming.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz January 13, 2009 | 1:51 p.m.

Chuck, you might want to retract your claim about there being no Taser policy before I do a little digging online and post it for you to re-read. Examine the quote about halfway down at that clearly indicates such a policy existing prior to the McDuffy incident.

Does it need some updating? Yes, there are some obvious areas that council, CPD, and opponents have pointed out. But if you are expecting a Taser-specific review board to look at every Taser use, I think you will be sorely disappointed.

And now after slapping down the police, you slam the council as well. Guess you better get your signatures ready to run for council and fight for this issue, lest anyone call you complacent, right?

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr January 13, 2009 | 2:21 p.m.

John Schultz that policy was and is a joke and most people with the smarts enough not to listen to the complacent people in this city know it all too well.

So what there is formed a new over sight committee as is being requested to look at every use of a Taser. Are you going to fault them for wanting every citizen to get the fair shake and full disclosure they are entitled too because you and others do not feel they are "elitist enough" for your's and others wanting?

Why should I retract my statements many other concerned citizens,advocacy groups and others have said these same things long before I ever came to Columbia and still do continue to speak out now.

I just speak out as they do about the obvious and that obvious is that the "old boy elitists" in this county and city are not happy because their "good ole boy elitist mentality" of doing things is being riddled away at by those not afraid to speak up on the issues that concern us all.

Get used to it as the times they are a changing for the betterment of all John Schultz and there is not much the "old boy elitists" can do about it. Oh they might "stumble block" it for very short awhile thus hurting all citizens with their mentality but in time change we all can believe in will come.

If you don't like it maybe you and the elitists should move to Mayberry RFD where I am sure you can sit out in front of the court house and watch paint dry.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz January 13, 2009 | 2:28 p.m.

Chuck, I'm about as elitist as chocolate pudding and firewood, so give that tired canard a rest. So sorry to show you wrong about there not being a Taser policy prior to the McDuffy incident; I'll try not to make you look bad in front of us yokels again.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr January 13, 2009 | 2:57 p.m.

As I stated that Taser Policy was a joke then as it is now. Until real policies and community watch dog groups are included into a new Taser Watch Commission Created by City Council and the Boone County Commission with members of all of the Mental Health organizations and other advocacy groups represented we will never have policies nor changes citizens deserve nor can honestly believe in.

The only person you make look bad John Schultz is yourself by not presenting all sides of the story but only those you feel are important. All sides and views of the issues are very important.

That is ok John Schultz when others are pushing for change we all can believe in and you do not somebody I am sure will still let you run your little meetings at the library.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz January 13, 2009 | 3:09 p.m.

Chuck, you have never once presented the side of the police in this issue, so don't go preaching to me about presenting all sides of the issue. You might also tell the "community watch dog groups" that the county sheriffs carry Tasers, because I'm pretty sure none of them have spoken before the county commission. I suggest they leave the "Tasers: Tested and Proven Deadly" placards at home as Karl Skala found those over the top as he mentioned at the end of the council meeting where the Taser opponents spoke. I also urge you to research if the city council is even considering a Taser oversight council; both you and Ray the curmudgeon seem to be mistaken on this point unless I have missed a story in the media (and I apologize if so).

And one final point, you and Ray might want to gather your intelligence a bit better. I don't hold any meetings at the library. I have attended candidate forums at the library, and go there now and then with my children. Seems to be another case of you misspeaking the facts.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr January 13, 2009 | 4:20 p.m.

John Schultz I have and continue to present that side of the story alot are afraid to comment on here and other local discussion boards due to individual elitists like yourself bashing them for their honest and upfront points of view because it is not approved of by the "old boy mentality" status quo.

If you do not like my views too bad. I am entitled to express them and will continue to do so as long as I live in this community.

What is the old saying that actions speak louder than words and one thing lacking in this community is action.

I and others advocate for that action and less lip service given to the public or the old saying action talks and B.S. walks and there is one hell of alot of B.S. lip service given to this entire community by the elitists old boy mentalities.

There are activists groups pushing right now for a Taser Oversight Commission or Committee but their attempts are being stonewalled by the very "elitists old boys" who are in places of power around this community.

Everybody knows it but not many want to rock the boat. I care enough to speak up about it. So should you if you truly cared about this community.

The fact is "Tasers are proven deadly" by the over 300 deaths attributed to their use that Taser International is in denial over and continues to silence court cases over.

Change everybody can believe in honestly is coming John Schultz and it might take time but it must come in order for this entire community to really be progressive as it claims to be.

(Report Comment)

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