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More knowledge of Tasers would help Columbia

Wednesday, March 18, 2009 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:39 p.m. CDT, Thursday, April 9, 2009

*The TASER International company does not manufacture a weapon featuring the cartoon character Hello Kitty. This column has been edited to remove that error.
** Not every Columbia Police officer currently carries a Taser. This story was edited to reflect that fact.

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 tracylbarnes@gmail.com.

 

 


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Comments

MARY HUSSMANN March 18, 2009 | 12:35 p.m.

The Coalition To Control TASERs has endorsed HB 931 sponsored by Rep. Steven Webber. There are also eight co-sponsors which include Rep. Mary Still. The Coalition also supports SB 328 by Senator Joan Bray. This Bill is even stronger in protecting Missourians from TASER abuse. It not only calls for a study, but, while the study is being done, restricts TASER use to law enforcement agencies that meet certain standards.

Meanwhile, here in Columbia, activists have worked for over nine months to obtain better training, stricter regulations, and clear and accountable oversight. Only a few changes have been made. We have looked at various regulations and believe that the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) standards would greatly improve TASER control. At the request of the Mayor, we compared the PERF standards to the current Columbia Police guidelines and submitted a 31 page document on 3/2/09. Only 18 of the 52 PERF guidelines have been adopted. This 'barely a third' standard is not acceptable. Chief Dresner said he would meet with us and other concerned residents after the 3/2/09 City Council meeting had taken place. Now he says he won't meet or discuss the TASER issue, but will contact PERF and ask for their charges for a review? What is that about?!

With no federal, state, or local mandates concerning TASER use, every community is ‘on their own’. We in Columbia want the highest standards and that has motivated our Coalition members and other concerned citizens from the beginning. In June of ’08, we asked the City Council to delay buying more TASERs and arming all our officers, but they rushed to unanimously pass this for a Police Chief who had less than 3 weeks on the job. We then asked that a Task Force be formed to investigate TASER use, study current regulations, gather local, state, and national information, address liability issues, take testimony from Columbians, and then issue their recommendations. The Council refused to do this. Communication is a big part of the problem, but residents are unable to solve this TASER community and Police protection issue when the Council hasn’t seriously addressed it and now puts out an erroneous “time to move on” message and the Police Department Chief refuses to even sit down and talk.

(Report Comment)
Tom Dresner March 18, 2009 | 1:17 p.m.

Mary Mary Mary. Wow, where do I begin? Ok, I'll get back to you on this, but first I wanted to point out to Tracy that not every CPD officer has a TASER as she stated. We're still needing about 30 or 40 more to get full deployment.

Also, I just replied to Linda Green on another TASER thread before I saw this one. My, you're keeping me on my toes!

Back soon. :)

Tom

(Report Comment)
MARY HUSSMANN March 18, 2009 | 1:43 p.m.

Chief Dresner, To clarify - I don't think you were at the June '08 meeting and that is where the City Council affirmed Chief Boehm's goal of arming all Columbia officers with a TASER.

(Report Comment)
Tom Dresner March 18, 2009 | 2:22 p.m.

Mary said: "Chief Dresner said he would meet with us and other concerned residents after the 3/2/09 City Council meeting had taken place. Now he says he won't meet or discuss the TASER issue, but will contact PERF and ask for their charges for a review? What is that about?!"

I am completely willing to meet with you. I did ask for us to wait until after the 3/2 meeting. Refusal? Hardly. As for that the PERF charges are about--you were there. I proposed sending our policy to PERF for analysis and comment. They don't do that for free. That's what I've done, and we're waiting on their cost estimate.

Mary said: "In June of ’08, we asked the City Council to delay buying more TASERs and arming all our officers, but they rushed to unanimously pass this for a Police Chief who had less than 3 weeks on the job."

I didn't take over until July 2. This approval took place before I was in office (yes, in June) and before most of the council even knew what my name was. I bet they'd disagree on your characterization of their pace, timing and motivation.

I am more than willing to talk to GRO. You know I have always been super-open about that. I hope you're not taking my last minute cancellation of my attendance at your forum last week for child care issues as a snubbing. I only asked that we wait until after the 3/2 meeting because your advocacy for the PERF standards adoption did not commence until February 11. We had geared up for the council's requested report on your original assertions in the December Tribune Op-Ed. I asked you to wait so we could handle one thing at a time.

Now we have our policy at PERF. Council is interested in their input. Until we know what PERF says, if we can do that, it's counterproductive in my view to have a discussion in which you're going to push for full PERF standards adoption. Cart before the horse, so to speak.

Nevertheless, I am not opposed to meeting. I am however, turning over the reins in less than two weeks. Chief Burton is apprised and I am pretty sure you won't be starting at ground zero when he is sworn in on March 30. I am not going away either.

By the way, I have made repeated requests of you and your group to attend a seminar by a very well-respected retired police major who is an internationally respected authority on less lethal force and a model policy writer for the International Association of Chiefs of Police. He has no ties to TASER International. You guys haven't replied back on whether you want me to bring him in.

Mary, personally, it has been a fascinating journey on this issue. I agree with Ed Berg in his cover letter to Mayor Hindman when he said, "I do agree with your statement that things seem to be moving together."

I have enjoyed the dialogue immensely. I hope too that GRO can demonstrate their stated support of police officer safety and fully support the non-moratorium bill for further TASER study in the MO legislature.

Tom

(Report Comment)
John Gordon March 18, 2009 | 3:26 p.m.

At the beginning of the article you state every Columbia Police officer has a TASER. I do not believe that is true. Please check your facts before print.

As far as the study, I agree. Information is always good.

(Report Comment)
MARY HUSSMANN March 18, 2009 | 10:17 p.m.

Put IJames and TASER International into your search and you'll find him very connected to TI.

(Report Comment)
Linda Green March 19, 2009 | 11:43 a.m.

Tom,

I'll reply to you on this thread instead of the older one.

First, I have a request. I would greatly appreciate it if you would not call our coalition GRO, but please refer to the Coalition to Control TASERs accurately as a coalition, which also includes ACLU, NAACP, MASW, PFLAG, and Mid-MO WILPF Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, of which I am a representative.

Our coalition's position and goal is that we want the Police Executive Research Forum PERF standards in place and in effect in Columbia, as well as adequate police training and oversight to reassure our community that PERF is being systematically and effectively followed and enforced. This is the minimum which our Coalition to Control TASERs would find acceptable.

Our coalition fully supports the Missouri House and Senate TASER bills HB-931 and SB-328. Our reading is that if Columbia adopted the PERF standards, that our police department would be exempt from the moratorium in the Senate Bill.

Linda

(Report Comment)

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