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Monday, November 01, 2010

Chief Burton supports possible Taser tweaks

November 1, 2010
Brennan David, Columbia Daily Tribune

As policy on Taser use has evolved, Columbia police Chief Ken Burton believes the device itself also has room to improve.

In August, Burton participated in a Police Executive Research Forum event where more than 60 police chiefs from across the country discussed ways to improve Taser use. While PERF’s executive committee has yet to release new recommendations as a result of the meeting, participants discussed mechanical changes that could improve the safety of the device.

The length of time an officer can send an electrical current through a person was discussed, and Burton said he thinks changes should be made to the devices, manufactured by Taser International.

“When people are under the influence, the extended shock has shown to be a problem,” Burton said. “We have asked them to reduce the amount of times a trigger can be pulled so that it automatically shuts off.”

The Taser X26, which is used by 87 of 110 patrol officers in Columbia, requires 50,000 volts to deploy the probes and shoot them as far as 25 feet. Upon impact, 1,200 volts are transferred to the subject, according to Taser International.

When the trigger is pulled, the Taser sends the electrical current through its probes for a five-second cycle. Officers are trained to press and release the trigger, said Officer Jason Baillargeon, a Taser trainer for Columbia police. The officer should be attempting to place handcuffs on the suspect during the cycle, he said. The Taser will continue to deploy an electrical current if the trigger is held.

Burton said he would like the Taser to shut off after the device is used a certain number of times on a suspect, and the PERF executive committee has requested that Taser International examine possible implementation. Burton did not specify a number of times the trigger should be allowed to be pulled.

“In some instances, like when officers are in the heat of the moment, they involuntarily keep the trigger down,” Burton said.

People for a Taser-Free Columbia organizer Mary Hussmann cited studies that showed as much as 80,000 volts can be transferred during a Taser deployment.

“They’ve requested this before,” she said of the potential changes to Taser devices. “Nothing has happened. Nothing will happen.”

Although no deaths have been attributed solely to Tasers, the use of the device in conjunction with health issues has resulted in death. “Normally there is something else involved, like heart problems,” Boone County Sheriff Dwayne Carey said. “A lot of this is the operator. Take the Moberly case, for example. It’s not the Taser itself, it was the operator. But the example can be used the same way for a baton.”

In August 2008, Stanley Harlan, 23, died after being stunned multiple times by Moberly police. The city settled with Harlan’s family without admitting fault, and a special prosecutor determined the officers were not criminally liable.

Columbia voters will decide tomorrow whether Taser use should be permitted in Columbia. If Proposition 2 passes, it will create an ordinance making it illegal for any officer or resident to threaten to use or activate any conducted electrical devices in the city.

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