COLUMBIA — In a formal response to the Columbia Police Department's Taser report given to the Columbia City Council on Monday, the Coalition to Control Tasers said the department has not done enough to prevent future abuse of the weapon.
The department has made a positive first step by openly admitting to officers' improper use of the weapon in two arrests and clarifying its Taser policy, said coalition member Ed Berg.
"There is a lot of misconception on what our position is," Berg said. "We are not in favor of banning (Tasers). They have a use if used properly by the police. We basically want to prevent harm or death to our citizens."
The Police Department's report, which was prepared by Interim Police Chief Tom Dresner at the request of Mayor Darwin Hindman, was presented to the council at its meeting Monday evening. Both officers who misused their Tasers were disciplined by the department, Dresner said, though he would not say how.
Fourth Ward City Councilman Jerry Wade said the Police Department has addressed a majority of the issues the coalition has raised since they began voicing their concerns of the police department's Taser use.
"I think the Police Department has been making changes and improving their range of standards," Wade said. "Many of the concerns (the coalition) had when they started have been addressed."
While the policy should always be re-evaluated, until more information is made available about the department's Taser policy, it is time to move on, Wade said.
The coalition is asking Columbia police to adopt 52 policy guidelines developed by the Police Executive Research Forum, a research group for police chiefs and administrators funded by the U.S. Department of Justice. The guidelines were released by the forum in 2005 after a survey of more than 130 law enforcement agencies.
Dresner said he will send the Police Department's current regulations to the forum for analysis. He said he believes the department's policy has addressed many of the major concerns the coalition had concerning the department's previous policy.
One of the biggest changes the department has made concerns people believed to have committed misdemeanors. It is now against department policy to use Tasers on these people if they try to flee from officers.
Berg said there is still a lot of mistrust in the community regarding how Tasers are being used by police. The department could begin to fix that problem by adopting the forum's guidelines, he said. By doing so, the Columbia Police Department would address a lack of clarity in its current policy in four areas: training, regulation, oversight and medical standards.
"To gain the confidence of the people there needs to be strict regulation in plain language that people can understand," Berg said. "The (forum) guidelines are more to protect the people and make sure the police do a good job."
Wade said there is strong support within the community for police to use Tasers and support of the standards that are already in place.
"A large number of people in the community think the standards and control of Tasers are quite adequate," Wade said.
One of the biggest concerns the coalition has about police policy is that it does not require a physician to examine people who have recently been shot with a Taser.
"You have research reports coming out every two weeks saying different things about how safe Tasers are," Berg said. "The fact is no one knows how these Tasers affect the human body."
By providing medical attention to people who have been hit with a Taser, the department would not only be helping but also protecting the department and the city from possible lawsuit.
In July, Phillip Lee McDuffy was shot by a Columbia police officer with a Taser after threatening to kill himself, causing him to fall off an overpass to the concrete 15 feet below, according to Missourian reports. In December, McDuffy and his legal counsel presented a $500,000 settlement offer to the city.
On Monday, the coalition presented the council with an analysis comparing Columbia Police Department policy with forum guidelines. They determined that while 14 of the 52 forum guidelines are included in department guidelines, 19 forum standards are not included in its current Taser policy. Parts of 11 other guidelines are partially included in department guidelines.
Dresner said the department is currently using 33 of the 52 forum guidelines in its Taser policy.
The debate over Tasers and their use is far from over. The Missouri Senate is considering a bill that would create a task force to investigate the safety of Tasers, as well as how effectively they are being used by law enforcement across the state.
The coalition is also sponsoring a public meeting to talk about Taser use by Columbia police. Reddit Hudson, a former St. Louis police officer who is now the racial justice director of the ACLU’s office in St. Louis, will be the event's featured speaker. Dresner said he plans on attending the event. The meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Columbia Labor Temple, 611 N. Garth Ave.