Against the Columbia Police Department on Tasers

This past month I spoke to the Boone County Pachyderms, the local Republican organization, on the anti-taser ballot initiative facing Columbia voters, in a forum with Dwayne Carey, the Boone County Sheriff. Here are a few thoughts.

The “ban tasers in Columbia” ballot initiative was brought forth after the Columbia Police Department was involved in a series of highly publicized Taserings that resulted in lawsuits against the city and significant public outcry. Moreover, Columbia Police Department has been involved in numerous instances of civil rights violations and tends to deny wrongdoing in almost every instance where a complaint is lodged. There is a basic lack of respect for citizens by the police of Columbia, Missouri, and it shows in some rather ugly ways.

I don’t agree with the entirety of the “ban taser” ordinance. I think the ordinance is unconstitutionally overbroad in banning defensive civilian use of Tasers, and I think that the real problem with Tasers in Columbia is that we have a bad police force, not because the Taser is a bad tool.

I do think that Tasers represent unpredictable force, because you can’t predict how different people will react to being Tasered, and you risk killing someone who has an unobservable heart defect or other health problem. Generally speaking, I think this means that Tasers are inappropriate for disciplinary uses, and represent excessive force in those scenarios. So while I don’t think law enforcement shouldn’t have Tasers, I do think that the Taser is a tool for very specific defensive situations, and you should never let someone who is poorly trained use a Taser in an official capacity.

The discussion in front of the Pachyderms crystallized around those two contentions. Boone County Sheriff Dwayne Carey was polite and well-reasoned in his discussion. Carey noted that his department has had Tasers for far longer than Columbia Police Dept; Boone County got Tasers in 2002 and CPD got Tasers in 2008. BCSD uses Tasers infrequently, and it appears in far more appropriate situations than CPD does. If one uses the simple metric of lawsuits per Taser usage, this is a defensible claim; I am unaware of any complaint or lawsuit filed against BCSD for Taser usages, whereas CPD has managed to generate several million dollars worth of lawsuits over the last 3 years (that taxpayers end up on the hook for).

The reporter from the Columbia Tribune posted this comment to his blog regarding the story:

Dan’s comment:  I thought this was a perfectly fair story.  The Sheriff on the one hand defending the use of Tasers by law enforcement, and the opponent, who is adamantly opposed to the CPD having Tasers, although he’s OK with the Sheriff’s Dept. having them.  I caught a lot of guff from the CPD for using him as a source because of his obvious bias, but the guy spoke in a public forum, and was invited to do so by the Pachyderm Club.  I had to cover his comments, and I had to ask him questions afterward.  It was my job and my assignment.  CPD didn’t see it that way.  The Sheriff, by the way, thought my story was fair and accurate.  – Dan

And of course this comment captures everything that I am saying about CPD perfectly. Of course I have a bias. But CPD won’t elaborate on what that bias is (I believe in the rights of individuals to be free from torture and police brutality). Nor are they making the argument that I am wrong or providing any warrant for why my comments are unfair. But when you have Eric Dearmont or the other hacks from the Columbia Police Officers Association commenting on any allegations against CPD, you have to understand that their first allegiance is to their paychecks and pensions, not justice or public service.

PS. I should thank Mike Zweifel and Tom Seagraves for their gracious invitation to speak to the Boone County Republicans and their commitment to open and vibrant debate.

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