Coalition to Control Tasers changes campaign direction

The group wants Columbia citizens to vote on city Taser use.

The Coalition to Control Tasers held a news conference Friday at 611 N. Garth Ave. to announce redirection in its campaign to control Taser use.

The six-member group announced the start of an initiative to include a vote on banning the use of Tasers in Columbia on the November 2010 ballot.

"Tasers continue to be used in ambiguous, uncertain and seemingly mistaken ways that appear not to conform consistently to 'imminent danger' standards," said Catherine Parke, a speaker at the news conference.

Parke also cited concerns of accountability and transparency in the police department. Access to police documents for examination after Missouri Sunshine Law requests have been difficult for citizens and citizen groups after the implementation of the Police Executive Research Forum standards, Park said.

The PERF standards were created to outline a set of guidelines that police departments could adopt concerning their use of Tasers.

"The PERF guidelines emphasize reasonableness in policy making, training, officer use of CED's (Tasers), post-deployment care of those subjected to a CED activation and maintenance of records and statistics," Columbia Police Department Chief Kenneth Burton said in an April 2009 news release after announcing the department would adopt all 52 PERF standards.

Burton addressed the PERF standards as one of his first priorities when he came into office.

"One of my priorities my first week was to make a decision on how to proceed with the proposed PERF review of the Columbia Police Department policy on the use of Conducted Energy Devices (Tasers)," Burton said in the news release.

Mary Hussmann, a member of the Coalition to Control Tasers, voiced concerns about Taser use. Hussmann said there are a lot of myths that need to be taken care of.

"You don't use Tasers instead of a gun," Hussmann said. "I think when people weigh it they will realize the Tasers are more trouble than they are worth."

CPD Deputy Chief of Police Tom Dresner, who is against the coalition's initiative, said the coalition wasn't straight with the community on its ultimate intentions.

"All along they assured us that it wasn't about banning, or disarming," Dresner said. "It was about police accountability and reasonable oversight. The community was misled."

Dresner also said standards of reasonable Taser use that the community decided on are being kept with proper training, oversight and policy by the police department. Dresner said the coalition wants to disarm the police of a vital, less lethal, force option.

"Hussmann says, 'We need to get rid of them to get the cooperation and trust back from the people'," Dresner said. "Mary Hussmann has never had to, nor will she ever have to face someone who has no interest in cooperation with the police."

Dresner also said the Taser is the only device that will electrically interrupt the signals from the brain from a resistive subject that will take down even large muscular people. Without a Taser, Dresner said, officers will face danger with less available to them and thereby being put in greater jeopardy.

"I think the people of this city would agree that's the wrong direction to go," Dresner said.

Hussmann and the coalition are confident once the public is educated on Tasers, they will vote to make Columbia Taser free.

"Our contention is this is not only good for the public but this is also good for the police," Hussmann said. "We want a police department who is a good police force and we support them. We just don't like their use of the Tasers."

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