Council sends Taser ban proposal to ballot

The council also voted to restrict police complaints to county residents and family.
Members of People for a Taser-Free Columbia stand at the City Council meeting last week to show the number of people supporting an ordinance that would ban Taser use in Columbia. About a dozen members of the organization were present.

Columbia City Council members voted last week to send an ordinance banning Taser use within city limits to the Nov. 2 ballot after hearing several appeals from citizens to ban the weapons as dangerous.

Council members also voted to place the renewal of the one-eighth cent sales tax for park renovation on the November ticket and enacted restrictions on who is eligible to file complaints with the Citizens Police Review Board.

The council unanimously voted against an ordinance proposed by People for a Taser-Free Columbia. Because the council did not pass the measure, it will go before the voters in the next election. Not all council members opposed the ban, but most felt voters should have the final say.

"It's clear that there has been a misuse of Tasers," Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe said. "But my personal opinion about this is that people feel strongly about this issue, and it should be up to a vote by the people."

The council's decision came after several Columbia residents spoke out about the dangers of conductive electrical devices such as Tasers.

Ken Green, People for a Taser-Free Columbia spokesman, said Tasers are a type of cruel and unusual punishment and the city should worry about possible lawsuits filed by Taser victims. The group successfully petitioned to have the proposed ordinance come before the council by attaining more than 3,500 signatures from Columbia residents.

"We the citizens have the final say in what weapons police can use," Green said.

Council members also voted on an ordinance to limit that can file complaints with the Citizens Police Review Board. Following a controversial February SWAT raid, marijuana activist Ed Rosenthal -- a resident of Piedmont, Calif. -- filed a complaint against Columbia police officers claiming they used excessive force. At the time, Columbia had no limitations on who could file complaints with the review board, including out-of-state residents.

On Monday, after an amendment by Second Ward Councilman Jason Thornhill, the council passed an ordinance limiting those who could file a complaint to Boone County residents or victims and victims' friends, family or attorneys.

Even with the amendment, some local residents opposed the ban.

"I don't think it's a good idea to restrict the group of people that should be able to file a complaint," Columbia resident Eapen Thampy said, "There are not enough checks on (the police's) ability to ruin lives or families."

The council also discussed at length City Manager Bill Watkins' budget proposal for fiscal year 2011, and several members of the public requested the council include more funding for both the arts and social services.

First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz said the fiscal year 2011 budget was crafted in anticipation of financial trouble in fiscal year 2012. Watkins told the council that fiscal year 2012 was expected to be a "booger," economically. Watkins recommended the city draw $3 million from its $160 million reserve fund to help cover expenses for fiscal year 2011. The final vote on the budget will be made in mid-September.

The council then voted unanimously to place on the November ballot a renewal of the one-eighth cent sales tax for the acquisition of more land for green spaces and recreational parks. If renewed by voters, the tax is projected to bring $12 million in revenues over the next five years.

The council made its decision despite warnings from Columbia resident Paul Love that green space could have unintended consequences.

"More green space encourages wildlife to move through the neighborhoods," he said. "They do silly things like eat the flowers out of your flower beds or total your car if you happen to come across them at night."

The City Council will hold its next meeting at 7 p.m. Sept. 6 at Columbia City Hall.

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