GUEST COMMENTARY: Why you should vote to ban Tasers

Tuesday, August 24, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 6:39 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, August 24, 2010

It was disappointing but not surprising that the Columbia City Council rejected the taser-free initiative as an ordinance and left the matter to voters in the Nov. 2 election.

By law, citizens have the final say on what weapons police use. Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton correctly said in a Columbia Daily Tribune article: "I understand where we get our authority to use force, and that is from the citizens."

We appreciate the work of our police force, and we thank the officers for their service. The Taser-Free Columbia campaign hopes to restore to our officers the citizens' trust, which has been compromised by police use of the Taser. And we do respect, as the mayor said, "the officer's right and the family's right for the officer to come home safely."

Other residents of Columbia, however, also deserve to come home safely. After being shot with a Taser for 31 seconds, a 23-year-old Moberly man died in front of his family. How many Taser-injured people make it home, forever changed, to a family forever changed? The excessive force and excruciating pain caused by the Taser affects people and their friends and families, causing outrage, fear, hatred and lack of cooperation — attitudes toward our police that are spreading throughout our community.

What really brings day-by-day safety to our police are the confidence and support of the community and its families toward officers they feel can be trusted to be fair, to use only necessary and reasonable force, and to have the good of our community and its residents at heart. Taser use degrades community confidence and trust in police.

Unfortunately, before voting, council members did not address the issues of Taser unreliability and liability.

As we have learned more about Tasers and other conducted electrical devices, the question is: How will any amount of additional training, or better rules and strict adherence to those rules, or more transparency, adequately control the Taser when the weapon itself so easily lends itself to abusive use, has poor quality control, lacks standards, is unreliable and is therefore unsafe?

Tasers are not firearms. There are no mandated state or federal requirements for training or use of these weapons, so every community is on its own in deciding whether or how to allow conducted electrical devices. At the grassroots, people are discovering their flaws and dangers.

Last year, the Memphis, Tenn., city council banned Taser use. This year, San Francisco's police commission voted "no" to Taser use by officers after hearing several researchers and advocates warn against their lethal and legal risks. And recently the Las Vegas, N.M., police chief decided to put away Tasers after seeing police departments across the country face lawsuits over their use. "Hearing all of the litigation behind it, we just decided to not go with it," he said.

Litigation is happening here in Columbia and mid-Missouri as well. Our city has already settled a Taser case for $300,000. And two other potentially million-dollar Columbia Taser cases — Derrick v. Giger & Logan and Marine v. Laforest — are in process. The civil court awarded $2.4 million to the Harlan family in Moberly, where the medical examiner ruled the death of Stanley Harlan a homicide. Potential ripe grounds for additional Columbia lawsuits involve people who were shot with a Taser and, subsequently, were not charged with crimes.

A federal court recently ruled, in Bryan v. McPherson, that the excruciating pain caused by the Taser in itself constitutes excessive force. The court is reviewing whether an officer's "qualified immunity" in Taser lawsuits should be eliminated.

We must realize every time the Taser is drawn, litigation against Columbia and even against individual officers and individual members of the City Council is possible. The taser-free campaign is not about neutering officers' use of an effective force continuum. It's about helping the police return to a safer force continuum and giving them back the respect of the community.

When officers pull a Taser, they are to warn: "Taser! Taser! Taser!" Should not the Taser warning we hear be "Lawsuit! Lawsuit! Lawsuit!"?

Columbia's annual autumn growth spurt brings thousands of new students, as well as new employees who will call this city home. We don't want these populations to begin avoiding Columbia because of highly publicized police use of excessive force and litigation. It is in the urgent interest of newcomers and of everyone to join the groundswell of consciousness about the Columbia Police Department's use of force and the relationship between police and the public, including the many dangers of Taser use.

Written in 1829, the brilliant "Nine Principles of Policing" still provides a moral compass for the ethical relationship between police and the public. The principles stress that citizens should be responsible for eliminating situations that foment crime and that the police, as citizens, focus on the safety of the whole community. The seventh principle says, in part: "Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police."

We the People for Taser-Free Columbia ask Columbia voters to examine this issue and vote "yes" on the CED/Taser-Free ordinance on Nov. 2.

Ken Green is a member of People for Taser-Free Columbia.

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Carlos Sanchez August 24, 2010 | 6:11 a.m.

Ya get rid of Tasers so police go back to using Billy Clubs,Black Jacks,guns,fists,boots,knees and brute force and watch the law suits over police brutality stack up like cord wood before City Council. Oh let us not forget because you the citizen took away their Tasers now that nut job with a knife,gun,sword,club,baseball bat,chain or hey even a Taser who might be so strung out on whatever drug he will not feel much anyway and has super human strength due to their adrenaline is pumping more than normal for that matter is standing their defying the police to shoot him so he can play suicide by cop.

Such fools are these Liberals who want to take away any tool out of the hands of Law Enforcement.

(Report Comment)
Roger Dowis August 24, 2010 | 7:42 a.m.

Using only the reasonable amount of force to overcome is suspect is misleading. I've seen men continue to fight after being beaten to the point of breaking bones. Frankly, Rodney Kind wouldn't have happened if a Taser had been available.

(Report Comment)
Mark Flakne August 24, 2010 | 8:09 a.m.

"By law, citizens have the final say on what weapons police use."

Yes, but this proposed ordinance would prohibit private citizens from deploying a taser in defense of their life and property. Because of this problematic caveat, everyone should vote against this the taser ban.

(Report Comment)
Andrew Hansen August 24, 2010 | 8:47 a.m.

Not sure I would want to use Memphis, TN as a model for our police force.

(Report Comment)
Kate Slater September 9, 2010 | 6:39 p.m.

Roger, a taser was used on Rodney King and became part of the beating.

(Report Comment)
John Bliss September 15, 2010 | 2:51 p.m.

MrGreen, having read your complaint, I do see some points. And there are non-lethal weapons that available to stop the largest suspect. Bean-bag guns, and guns that shoot rubber bullets, BOTH hit with amazing force! However, getting these weapons to every office is another problem. You take away the tasers, he/she is left with a Glock 9mm, prob. hollow points. If there was a case of mistaken idenity, I would prefer a stun, to losing my life or limb to a Glock.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush September 15, 2010 | 3:30 p.m.

Law enforcement use all kinds of tools - radios, flashlights, vehicles. The question is - what do we do with a police force that improperly uses these tools and has little accountability?
What should be the police executives responses when tools are utilized inappropriately? What have been the responses? Where are the sanctions against officers who improperly use the tools provided by the state?
I have seen fine work by law enforcement in my neighborhood and, frankly, in my driveway - responding to a dispute a few doors down. But I have yet to see any compelling evidence that Thomas A. Smith Electric Rifles are being used responsibly or even within the department's own protocols.
Finally, it insults my intelligence to call these devices "less-than-lethal". They project lethal force further than a baton but less than revolver.
It makes me proud to live in a town where these issues are debated and voted upon - and I'm certain that my vote will be YES on this ordinance.
A YES in support of law enforcement.
A YES in support of a safe community.
A YES in support of a positive future.

(Report Comment)

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