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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Taser ban shot down

November 3, 2010
Brennan David, Columbia Daily Tribune

Columbia voters overwhelmingly said “no” yesterday to a proposition that would have banned Taser use within city limits.

With 32,006 votes tallied, 77 percent voted against Proposition 2, which would have created an ordinance making it a Class A misdemeanor for any law enforcement agency or individual to threaten to use or activate any conducted electrical device within city limits. The proposition only won in two central Columbia precincts.

“This is a valuable tool for officers to have and for people in terms of self-defense,” said Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton. “I’ve said it throughout this election: The use of force by an officer is never pretty. I think the voters listened.”

People for a Taser-Free Columbia spokeswoman Catherine Parke said this morning the campaign helped to educate the Columbia electorate on Taser use. “This election makes people say we need to be actively alert,” she said. Police “must give us the information we have the right to have. This is about how they are serving the public trust in regard to public safety.”

The origin of Proposition 2 can be traced to People for a Taser-Free Columbia’s difficulty in obtaining police reports and court documents concerning Taser use. Mary Hussmann, petition organizer, has said previously that Tasers in Columbia should be banned because Columbia residents cannot prove the devices are safe without the police reports and court documents they covet.

Missouri Open Meetings and Records Law allows a fee for the collection of such reports and fees, but the organization argues those items should be free.

“I have always felt we are transparent. I can’t help if there are expenses,” Burton said. “I don’t think it is fair when they ask for something and request the cost to be waived. It’s the law. They should be willing to pay for that.”

Hussmann has previously said the Columbia Police Department hides behind the Open Meetings and Records Law. Burton said last night his department has never refused anyone.

“Most of their argument” with us “is who is going to pay for it,” he said of past requests by the organization.

Parke said it is “puzzling” how many people voted against Proposition 2. “Either it was not a compelling argument, or it wasn’t heard,” she said of manufacturer Taser International’s caution to avoid deploying the Taser to the chest area, a caution that was a staple of the Proposition 2 campaign. “Everyone agreed safety was the issue in this election.”

Although Burton said he didn’t feel the ballot issue was a referendum of Columbia police Taser use, the agency was the only one specifically mentioned in the petition language.

Sgt. John Gordon, a Columbia police Taser instructor and organizer of the Columbia Police Officer Association’s campaign against Proposition 2, said he is pleased with the support his organization received from the community. The work of a police officer is often scrutinized, he said, and can be thankless at times.

“The association has been placed under a microscope for the past three years,” Gordon said. “Hopefully, this is a shift in support toward us. We can’t say thank you enough.”

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