CPRB discusses Tasers, SWAT policies

The board voted against receiving notification of SWAT policy changes.
Citizens Police Review Board member Carroll Highbarger holds up a stack of paperwork detailing the investigation of a SWAT raid conducted by the Columbia Police Department in February. Members of People for a Taser-Free Columbia called for a ban on the weapons during Wednesday’s Citizens Police Review Board meeting. Maneater File Photo

Members of People for a Taser-Free Columbia spoke out in favor of a ban on the weapons during Wednesday’s Citizens Police Review Board meeting.

Proposition 2 on the November ballot would make the use of Tasers within city limits a Class A misdemeanor. The ban would apply to anyone in Columbia, including police officers.

Ken Green, a member of People for a Taser-Free Columbia, was the first to address the board. Green told the board Tasers are unreliable and dangerous.

Police departments in other cities have decided to stop using Tasers. Green cited Memphis, Las Vegas, NM, and San Francisco as examples of police departments and city councils that have prohibited Taser use.

During a news conference in February, San Francisco Police Chief George Gascón made the case for law enforcement’s use of Tasers. But, the San Francisco Police Commission voted down a motion that would have given him the authority to reintroduce them to the police department, according to the commission’s website.

Green said it is up to Columbia residents to stop their police department from using Tasers.

“We as citizens, not the police, have the final say on what weapons the police department uses,” he said.

Green also said Tasers are often used in minor offenses. The pain inflicted by Tasers has caused uncontrolled falls, sometimes on concrete.

“We must realize every time a Taser is drawn, litigation against Columbia and even individual officers and individual members of the City Council is possible,” he said.

Catherine Parke, member of People for a Taser-Free Columbia, said rhetoric about Tasers is often off-point.

“You also hear the formulaic phrase, ‘The Taser is a good tool,’” she said. “No, it is not a tool. It is a weapon.”

In October 2009, Taser International issued a warning to Taser users, telling them not to fire the weapon at someone’s chest. This advisory, Parke argued, demonstrates the uncertainty of the Taser.

Parke said this was an issue of public safety, and People for a Taser-Free Columbia was equally committed to the safety of law enforcement officers and private citizens. She argued that Tasers are unsafe for anyone.

Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton addressed the board following the group’s comments. He said the safety of Taser use varies based on the knowledge and training of the user.

Officers should be trained to understand the mechanical aspects of Tasers in order to properly use them, Burton said. In some high-profile cases, officers have continued to use a Taser even if it was not working.

“There are things we need to do better and need to learn from,” he said.

In response to a question from board member Susan Smith, Burton said he would not be willing to move Tasers into the category of deadly force. The move would restrict officers from using Tasers except in situations that required deadly force.

“I’ve said this before: Don’t bring a Taser to a gunfight,” he said.

The review board is not a legislative body and cannot make any regulations regarding Taser use, but the members of People for a Taser-Free Columbia said they will likely hear complaints regarding Taser use and should be well-educated about the weapon.

The board also voted down a motion that would have required CPD to notify them about changes to SWAT policies.

During its Oct. 4 meeting, the Columbia City Council had voted to require CPD to notify it and the city manager of any significant changes made to SWAT policies.

Susan Smith was the only dissenting vote in the review board’s 7-1 decision.

“If we do nothing, then it’s just you, and it dies with you,” she said about Burton’s SWAT policy decisions.

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