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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Police Department to adopt all police forum standards on Tasers

April 7, 2009
BY Jonathan Randles, Missourian

COLUMBIA — The Columbia Police Department will adopt all 52 of the Police Executive Research Forum's Taser policy guidelines, Police Chief Kenneth Burton announced in a news release Monday evening.

The forum is a research group for police chiefs and administrators funded by the U.S. Department of Justice. The 52 standards, which the department released in 2005, are an attempt to standardize police department Taser policy nationally.

The Coalition to Control Tasers has been asking the Columbia Police Department to adopt all 52 policy guidelines since the beginning of March.

"The guidelines are comprehensive, but they in no way hinder our ability to utilize Tasers as a justifiable force option at the Columbia Police Department," Burton said in the release. He could not be reached for comment Monday night.

According to the release, formal policy changes and officer training will begin no later than May 1.

The announcement is one of Burton's first official mandates since he was sworn into office on March 30. At that ceremony, Burton said he would emphasize community policing and good customer service during his tenure as chief.

The police forum's standards would not only provide stricter guidelines for Taser use but would also improve internal oversight, training and medical care for people shot with a Taser. The new standards cover issues not adequately addressed in the former department policy, said Ed Berg, a member of the Committee to Control Tasers.

"By implementing the PERF standards, the citizens of Columbia will be safer and the police will be better served knowing when and where not to use the Taser," Berg said.

At a March 2 City Council meeting, then-Interim Police Chief Tom Dresner presented a report that admitted the department had used a Taser inappropriately within the last six months — the first time the department had ever admitted improper use of the weapon.

At the same meeting, the coalition presented council members with a 32-page report that compared the Police Department's Taser policy with the forum's standards. The coalition's analysis determined that the department was using about 18 of the 52 standards at the time, Berg said.

One of the major concerns the coalition had was the lack of a clear policy on providing medical treatment from medical professionals to people shot with Tasers. Under the forum's guidelines, the department would now have to contact emergency responders whenever the police respond to a call where they believe a Taser might be used. A medical professional would also be required to provide a physical evaluation and to continue monitoring the health of anyone who has been shot by a Taser.

By providing medical attention, the city and Police Department might see greater protection from civil lawsuits, Berg said.

According to previous Missourian reports, on July 25, Columbia police shot Phillip Lee McDuffy, 45, who was threatening to kill himself, with a Taser after 90 minutes of negotiating, causing him to fall off the Providence Road overpass above Interstate 70.

On Dec. 16, McDuffy's lawyer sent a $500,000 settlement offer to the city.

The coalition is attempting to raise awareness of Taser safety and make it a statewide issue. On Monday, members of the coalition went to Jefferson City to lobby Missouri's General Assembly to pass two pieces of legislation that, among other things, would create a statewide task force to investigate Taser safety, coalition member Mary Hussmann said.

The family of Stanley Harlan — the 23-year-old man who was killed after Moberly police repeatedly used a Taser on him during a traffic stop in August — were lobbying in the state capitol as well.

The coalition hopes to continue discussing the safety of Tasers until the state establishes a task force to investigate Taser use by police agencies. The coalition's trip to the capital Monday was a positive step in that direction, Hussmann said.

There's been "a lot of the chatter at the grass-roots level, but now its actually getting to the legislature," Hussmann said.

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