Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Grass Roots in Columbia

Demonstrating that it is possible to influence police policy without pressure from national media, Grass Roots Organizing, working in Columbia, MO has been able to influence their police department's tasing policy.
The Columbia Police Department is acknowledging improper use of Tasers in two incidents last year, and interim Chief Tom Dresner said a review of these cases has led the department to change its policy regarding use of the devices. ...

Previous policy prohibited officers from using Tasers when the only crime was fleeing arrest. That was “ambiguous,” Dresner said, because there is always an additional crime that prompts an officer to make an arrest.

Under the new policy, officers cannot use a Taser to subdue a person who is fleeing a misdemeanor offense “unless the person has shown a propensity for violence or is an immediate threat to the officer or a citizen.” ...

Another policy change makes it clear that Tasers should not, in most cases, be used to force a crowd to disperse or on two people fighting.

The police department plans to solicit feedback on its policy from the Police Executive Research Forum, which has set general guidelines for Taser deployment that a coalition led by Grass Roots Organizing has urged Columbia police to adopt.

Several members of the coalition spoke at a city council meeting last night and continued to question the use of Tasers and policy guidelines.

So, the police department has agreed to try avoiding tasing fleeing suspects and not to shoot tasers into crowds. Oh, and check out the comments section at the end of that article. It's men (and yeah, they're men) at their absolute worst.

A cynic might say that these policy changes are a no brainer, that with recent recent suits resulting in damages awarded to taser victims and their families, the police department is simply insulating itself from liability.

I won't say that. However we arrive at limiting taser use is fine by me. It's no small thing to get a concession of any kind from police here in America. For the most post, they operate in secrecy and with no citizen oversight (e.g., the NYPD).

Take note though, the situation is not that different in Columbia. Their police department was free to pick and choose from a list of policy suggestions provided by the grass roots organization. For example, they'll be keeping the options to tase people multiple times, to tase children, and to stick closely to Taser International's training materials.