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