CPD talks Tasers with Citizens Police Review Board

Some residents wonder about a change in the police department’s mentality.

Two Columbia police officers gave a presentation to the Citizens Police Review Board and local residents Wednesday night regarding the Tasers the city’s police use and when they are used.

Columbia Police Department Sergeant John Gordon and officer Jason Baillargeon, the department's instructors for Taser use, said the goal of such presentations is to increase the public’s receptiveness to officers carrying Tasers by spreading knowledge about how they work. Gordon said as the public learns more about the weapons, people will make fewer accusations about officers misusing Tasers.

“Part of that outreach is to increase understanding, because understanding removes the false statements about the Tasers themselves,” he said.

The officers talked about the construction of the model the department uses, the Taser X26. They went over the techniques the department teaches its officers regarding where to shoot suspects to safely subdue them. The Taser subdues a suspect by sending electrical current through two prongs which disrupt the body’s nerve signals to move or fight.

They also told the board about the department’s oversight of the weapons and tracking for when weapons are fired. Each Taser has AFIDs, or small identifying chips that are scattered at the scene when a weapon is fired. The AFIDs have the serial number of the fired weapon on them so they can be traced back to an officer. The department also requires officers to file monthly reports of their Taser’s usage.

Columbia resident Jeff Johnson said the department’s training was a good start, but said other variables, like an officer’s personality, determine whether the officer will know when to use his or her Taser.

“You can train an officer all day long, but if you have an aggressive officer, then it’s a problem," Johnson said. "Educating them is the only thing you can do."

Board member Betty Wilson said the board heard the officers’ presentation to answer questions that have lingered in the community since the weapons’ introduction in 2005.

“Tasers have been controversial and are fairly new to Columbia,” she said. “I think people have issues about whether it’s an excessive use of force and how it’s regulated.”

Former mayoral candidate and Columbia resident Sid Sullivan said he thinks the department is becoming more inclined to use force if suspects do not follow commands immediately and completely.

“I have broader concerns about the militarization of the department,” Sullivan said. “They don’t talk to people anymore.”

Board member Mary Bixby said it was not the board’s job to judge whether the department’s mentality had changed, but rather to listen and learn about its policies and then act on citizen complaints.

“We look at policy and then we look as much as we can at real-world practice,” Bixby said. “We’re in it because we care.”

The presentation comes a month after a local group, People for a Taser Free Columbia, announced a petition to outlaw the use of Tasers or stun guns in city limits. The group gathered more than 1,000 signatures in two weeks after the petition was started. The group estimates it will need about 3,700 signatures to get its proposed ordinance on the city ballot for the November elections.

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