Police see vote of confidence in Taser ban results

Wednesday, November 3, 2010 | 5:35 p.m. CDT; updated 12:33 p.m. CDT, Friday, November 5, 2010

COLUMBIA — Deputy Police Chief Tom Dresner had a simple reaction to the overwhelming defeat of the Taser ban.

"We're delighted," he said. "We feel like it's a solid vote of confidence from the citizens of our city." 

Proposition 2 would have banned the use or the threat to use Tasers in Columbia by law enforcement and citizens. Over 77 percent of those who voted opposed the ban. The final vote was 24,679 no to 7,327 yes.

"We are going to continue to use the Taser responsibly with accountability and oversight," Dresner said.

He pointed out that the organization that sought the Taser ban was involved in the process that helped establish the Columbia Police Department's current standards for the weapon's use.

In May 2009, the police adopted the guidelines for the use of Tasers and increased the amount of training required.

"Ever since (anti-Taser activists) became involved, they've advocated for more training and more oversight, and we have bent over backwards to meet them over and over again, and yet, that still isn't enough for those groups," Dresner said.

Ed Berg, a Columbia lawyer who represented People for a Taser-Free Columbia,  said everyone who worked to make Columbia Taser-free is disappointed the ban didn't pass. But he didn't see the group's efforts as a total failure.

"We need to evaluate what we have achieved," Berg said. "And we've achieved a great deal."

Berg wants to focus on the prevention of dangerous Taser use.

"We don't want to play Russian roulette with the Taser," Berg said.

Organizer Mary Hussmann said People for a Taser-Free Columbia had learned a great deal in the process of trying to control and then ban Taser use, but she said she didn't think most people in Columbia understand how dangerous the weapon can be.

As for future plans, she said the group had been so focused on the Proposition 2 effort that it hadn't given any thought to the future.

As far as Dresner is concerned, the issue is settled. "Really I just hope that the citizens of Columbia are ready to move on to other things," he said.

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Nathan Stephens November 3, 2010 | 9:30 p.m.

What Mary Hussman, Ed Berg and others did not think about is that most Columbia residents are fearful of the "crime problem" in Columbia and their efforts to eliminate the inappropriate use of tasers were interpreted as "taking tools away from law enforcement." Meanwhile, law enforcement being the only safe guard between law abiding citizens and ambitious criminals that are ravaging the city as reported daily in the Tribune, the Missouri and even the Maneater. I think what Deputy Chief Dresner, Chief Burton and others should take away from this is that 77 percent of the residents in the city trust officers with tasers and other tools and it would be a fools move to allow any officer to misuse a taser or any other weapon and violate that trust; without immediate and substantial punishment including the possibility of prosecution. I can assure you that groups like People for a Taser Free Columbia will rave about how they warned the city residents about this and in actuality be correct. If a culture in CPD, MHP and BCSD doesn't become one of misuse equals immediate termination, statistically speaking, the misuse and possible death of a citizen is bound to happen.

(Report Comment)
Vince Hathaway November 7, 2010 | 12:17 a.m.

Nathan, its even simpler than that. The question is would you rather be shot or tased? If Columbia law enforcement has Tasers taken away more police shootings will take place. The result of this effort is that we now know the idiot factor. In Columbia it is 23%. A wee bit high but we suspected as much. A hat tip to Wes Sherman! And I am..... E. Zach Lee-Wright

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking November 7, 2010 | 5:46 a.m.

Nathan Stephens wrote:

"the misuse and possible death of a citizen is bound to happen."

Unfortunately they're two separate things. Misuse of a taser would be a case where an officer uses a taser unjustifiably (e. g. for reasons of personal revenge or bias). This is what review of use of force, and the citizen oversight board is supposed to address. If it is not, then this is where the effort should be placed.

Death from a taser can result from entirely justifiable use, and would be more in the realm of an accident. While this is a far worse and irrevocable example of an unfortunate consequence of a police encounter, it's not something that can be completely prevented. All less-lethal police tools can kill under the right circumstances, and the taser is no worse, and often better, than a lot of them.


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