Those who saw the movie "Animal House" may recall the scene following Dean Wormer's expulsion of the Delta House Fraternity Brothers and yanking of Delta's charter. Beaten and bloodied by the Dean's goons and favored frat members, actor Tim Matheson as Eric "Otter" Stratton uttered this strident response: "This situation absolutely requires a futile stupid gesture be done on somebody's puss!"
The petition organized by the "People for a Taser-Free Columbia" is sadly reminiscent of the "Otter's" pledge — the difficulty in imagining a more futile or foolish gesture committed in our midst is overwhelming. These activists do enjoy the inalienable rights to their opinion as well as the identical privilege of petitioning; however, these rights do not mandate being taken seriously.
In March 2009, Interim Police Chief Tom Dresner addressed the City Council, listing changes to the Taser use policy by the Columbia Police and addressed the opposition by the Grass Roots Organizing group. The changes are much too detailed and numerous to be listed here; nevertheless, an evaluation of the report reveals that Dresner bent over backwards to ensure substantive change, transparency and increased officer training in the proper use of Tasers.
This truth should be apparent to reasonable people — public safety is best left in the hands of trained professionals. While the activists are entitled to their opposition, they have little or no comprehension of the circumstances in which an officer may be faced with a situation calling for a judgment in the use of deadly force or a less than lethal response. Rather, they cherry pick uncorroborated and conflicting statistics to create a false picture of the lethality of the weapon in seeking publicity at the expense of the police.
I have described these conflicting statistics before. On Dec. 10, 2008, I wrote of Amnesty International claiming 300 documented Taser-caused deaths in the United States alone since 2001 while the ACLU cited 148 deaths at the hands of U. S. and Canadian police since 1999. Adding to the puzzling quality of their arithmetic, when pressed to document their claims, they refuse – conversely, when autopsies exonerate the Taser as the cause of death, neither bothers to adjust the numbers.
On the plus side for Tasers, police departments so-equipped report officer deaths/injuries reduced by percentages of 23 to 93 percent. Pre-Taser from 1900 to 1999, by comparison, nearly 7,000 police officers were shot and killed while 231 others were beaten or stabbed to death. The GAO (Government Accounting Office) reports 140,000 of them in use by U.S. law enforcement agencies, documenting their use on over 100,000 volunteers in research experiments and training seminars with no fatalities nor serious injuries.
Rather than engage in repetitive statistics and testimonials that put people to sleep, let us look at the issue from a common sense, "what would a reasonable individual believe?" point of reference. For example, did those 40 volunteers in acquiring the 835 signatures (ironically as of April Fools Day) explain to the signers the consequences of being struck by a round fired from a *.40 caliber Glock pistol as opposed to the immobilizing but less than lethal shocking darts from the Taser?
The Taser Free trendy chant "We won't be fooled again, Tasers have to go" notwithstanding, is it not reasonable to assume that, in confronting criminals or unruly individuals, the officer on scene is the best judge of the force necessary to apprehend, subdue or restore order? Is it not also logical that the officer have options other than the use of deadly force? Even the most intellectually challenged must concede that a policeman’s service weapon is far more lethal than the Taser.
On the brighter side, the People for a Taser-Free Columbia's chances to gather 3,600 plus signatures necessary for a November ballot initiative fall in the oft repeated category of "between slim and none." Additionally, in the humble opinion of this pragmatist, if it does by some miracle find itself before the November electorate (nothing is idiot proof), the 1984 Reagan vs. Mondale landslide victory will appear a photo finish in comparison.
A population of reasonable, well behaved and respectful of the law citizenry not only has little to fear from any weapon wielded by a policeman but also does not see the Taser in the hands of competent authority a threat to life or safety. It is probably a low estimate; however, I would wager that 95 percent of Columbia residents fit the aforementioned category.
After all, if our Columbia Police Officers are sufficiently professionally trustworthy to be equipped with shotguns, rifles, pistols and nightsticks, is it not counteractive to deny them a less lethal alternative?
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.