The time has come for our community to investigate more deeply the effects of a Taser on humans.
**Several officers in Columbia carry a Taser, and a March 2 report by Interim Police Chief Tom Dresner to the City Council said there had been two instances in which officers had used Tasers improperly while performing the arrests of a 14-year-old accused of shoplifting and a man urinating in public.
“As for whether the force was ‘reasonable and necessary,’ we agree that in cases of someone urinating in public and then fleeing, the Taser is not generally appropriate,” Dresner said in his report.
Although much attention was given to the Phillip McDuffy incident, in which a Taser was used on a man who subsequently fell 15 feet off an overpass in Columbia, it was not considered to be one of the cases where Taser use was deemed inappropriate.
Columbia residents appear to be divided on this issue. Groups like the Coalition to Control Tasers have formed to try and enact measures for more responsible and reasonable Taser use, while others call for a complete discontinuation. Much of law enforcement and others in the community see it as a beneficial addition to a police officer's toolbox.
We seem to be focused on the fact police officers are carrying the devices around, but we forget they can be easily acquired by virtually anyone and used without the training law enforcement receives. Tasers can be purchased online following a background check. Now the public can simply point-and-click their way to a potentially lethal device*.
We should be looking for ways to empower both our community and our police officers. And we all know the best way to empower someone is with knowledge. That’s why I am urging our legislators to support Bill HB931, which advocates an in-depth study of current Taser use and the creation of a "Task Force on the Use of Conducted Electrical Devices (CEDs)."
The task force would be made up of two medical experts, two scientific experts, two legal experts, two law enforcement experts and two private citizens who have either been shot by a CED or who have a family member who has been shot or killed by a CED.
The job of the task force would be to “determine if there are adequate studies on the use and effects of CEDs and if such studies represent independent perspectives. In particular, the task force shall determine if there is a need for further research on certain issues, including how frequently CEDs are used, the effects of CED use on human health, typical operation of CEDs by law enforcement officers, possible circumstances when CED use should be limited, sufficiency of law enforcement training on CED use, and any other issues of interest or concern to the task force.”
As Dresner stated in his March 2 report, “Taser training cannot be solely limited to the curriculum developed by the weapon’s manufacturer.”
When I contacted Dresner via e-mail, he said although he hasn’t had a chance to read the bill, he “in principle would not oppose further study.”
Recently, in a Today’s Question on the Missourian site, Dresner commented on the cost of sending the department’s guidelines to a research analysis and commentary firm. “If it's too much, we're not going to be able to do it at all,” he said.
But if Bill 928 passes, a study of Tasers will still be performed by “Gathering a representative sample of law enforcement policies regarding CED use from around the nation.” The bill will also gather “national and state data on incidents involving alleged abuse of CEDs.”
Like all things, the study will take time. But if passed, the task force would have to report its findings to the governor, attorney general and general assembly by Jan. 1, 2011. There is no moratorium on Bill 928, meaning officers could still have use of their Tasers while the task force was conducting research. Dresner said in his e-mail to me, “We would adamantly oppose any bill that includes a moratorium on Taser use while the study is being conducted.”
We must remember the Taser company is a business. They want to sell product and cover their butts in the event something goes wrong. Of course the information and studies they are putting out will present a completely safe product. We need an independent and unbiased study that reaches both statewide and nationwide to help clear the air once and for all about Taser use. No matter which side of the Taser you are on, a little extra knowledge and research could go a long way.
Tracy Barnes graduated from MU in 2008 with degrees in journalism and English. She is a former copy editor and multimedia editor for the Missourian. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.