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May. 20 2010 - 7:55 am | 301 views | 0 recommendations | 9 comments

Police on the streets with Tasers: Protecting citizens, or endangering them?

Police issue X26 TASER

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Two uniformed officers in Columbia, Missouri, spent two hours last night educating the Citizens Police Review Board about Taser use. The brand of stun gun has been controversial in Columbia, as in many other jurisdictions across the United States. The back story of the educational session is perhaps as interesting as the session’s content.

Yes, the session occurred in Columbia, a city of 100,000, in the wake of a weeks-long outcry about a local police SWAT team entering a home, killing a dog, frightening a seven-year-old boy and generally exercising force beyond what they needed to check out the presence of marijuana inside the house. (See my recent postings on this blog.)

The Taser session, however, was only coincidentally related to the SWAT raid. It had been scheduled as part of the Citizens Police Review Board training. I am one of nine volunteers from Columbia appointed to the Review Board by the City Council. We began operating Jan. 1, 2010. The elected City Council created the Review Board last year after a two-year study by a panel of citizen volunteers. Everybody hopes the Review Board will improve relations between the police department and the rest of the populace.

Columbia Police Sergeant John M. Gordon Jr. and Office Jason W. Baillargeon conducted the session for the nine Review Board members and anybody else who wanted to listen. Several Columbians openly opposed to Tasers on police weapon belts attended. For the opponents, the issue is not simply whether police receive adequate training in Taser use, comparable to training before using a handgun or pepper spray. Rather, Taser opponents believe police have plenty of weapons already, and that Tasers will lead to at least occasional deaths that must be avoided.

I must keep an open mind, because as a Citizens Police Review Board member, I might be hearing evidence eventually on whether a Taser incident (whether lethal or non-lethal) constituted improper use of force by a local officer.

My decisionmaking will be more informed, however, now that I better comprehend how the Taser training program operates in Columbia, how the Taser itself functions/misfunctions, and what passes through an officer’s mind before, during and after the five-second (maximum) firing of the weapon.


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  1. collapse expand

    I don’t see a problem with tasers in general, I see the problem with those that abuse said device. It is being used as a torture/pain compliance device which is not it’s original design. When police think they can taser an old woman because she won’t sign a ticket when she is not lawfully required to do so is a problem. When cops deem it necessary to taser a young mother in front of her children for something that didn’t need to be escalated, that’s a problem.

  2. collapse expand

    Well, it appears that Mr. Weinberg is still uninformed when it comes to police use of taser.

    It is only the INITIAL shock that is limited to 5 seconds duration by the device. After the first shock the subsequent shocks last as long as the trigger is held depressed. In many cases of taser fatalities this has been 40 seconds or longer.

    I ask Mr. Weinberg to actually do some of his own research on tasers instead of relying solely on “facts” provided by the police and the manufacturer as this has frequently been found to be intentionally misleading in investigations elsewhere, including the Braidwood investigation in Canada.

    • collapse expand

      Yes, the initial shock is limited to five seconds. It seemed so obvious to me (and, I assume, to the readers of “In Justice”) that police might shock somebody more than once, I did not state something so self-evident in my posting.

      As for Freddy’s suggestion that I have failed to conduct my own research, he is mistaken. Why would you make that assumption, Freddy, given my 40 years of investigative reporting and the many, many pieces I’ve written criticizing police and prosecutors involved in wrongful convictions? I have read numerous studies published independently of the manufacturers and hundreds of anecdotal reports about the dangers of stun guns.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  3. collapse expand

    Virtually all information on Tasers circulated for public consumption by cities and police departments is provided by Taser International.

    The blog Excited Delirium serves as a clearinghouse for Taser studies, articles, and news stories not condoned by Taser. You can ignore his commentary and just follow the information back to its original sources, although sometimes his explanations of the science involved can be helpful to refute claims made by Taser (because no one else is).

  4. collapse expand

    Hey Steve, I don’t mind you lifting my photo from my blog to use for your story, but at least give me a byline and a link.

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    About Me

    Investigative reporter since 1969, starting on daily newspapers, moving to magazines, then to writing books. In 1978, I decided to reject the world of regular paychecks and freelance for newspapers and magazines while continuing to write nonfiction books. Since 1976, I have been active in an international group called Investigative Reporters and Editors (www.ire.org). From 1983-1990, I ran IRE day to day, and still help edit its magazine. Partly from passion and partly for mercenary reasons, I have been teaching students part-time at the University of Missouri Journalism School since 1978. As you would deduce from my trueslant.com blog, my research, writing and teaching have increasingly focused on exposing flaws in the criminal justice system, especially when those flaws lead to the imprisonment of innocent men and women.

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    Location:Columbia, Missouri