Sidewalk dining and tasers
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- LawrenceKS.org:City staff memo on Taser usage
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The Lawrence Police Department will get Tasers for the first time, but the new weapons may spark serious City Commission discussion of a new police oversight board as well.
Commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting unanimously approved a pilot project that will allow the police department to buy 10 Tasers, a gun-like device that delivers an electric jolt.
"I think this will help improve citizen safety and officer safety," Mayor Sue Hack said after listening to a police presentation that said Tasers in other communities had reduced the number of injuries to both police officers and suspects.
Police Chief Ron Olin said plans call for the department to buy 10 Tasers - at about $900 each. Three officers on each patrol shift would be equipped with the devices. Olin said it would be "several weeks" before officers would be equipped with the devices because significant training will first occur. He anticipated it would take at least six months for the department to evaluate the success of the test project and report back to city commissioners.
City commissioners also will be evaluating a major proposal of their own. Three of the five city commissioners said they were interested in studying whether the police department could benefit from a new citizens board that would play a role in police oversight.
"I have a lot of confidence in our police department, but I have received more comments about transparency," City Commissioner Rob Chestnut said.
Chestnut joined City Commissioners Mike Dever and Boog Highberger in asking staff to look at whether a citizens board could be useful in improving communication between the police and the community, and whether a board would help address concerns some people have about police procedure.
The lone comment commissioners received Tuesday night against the police's Taser proposal was related to whether there was enough oversight in how the force would use the new weapons. David Strano, Lawrence resident, said he was concerned that there was no outside board that could review whether the department was using Tasers or other weapons in a reasonable manner.
Police leaders, though, sought to assure commissioners that police officers faced multiple levels of review. Mike McAtee, chairman of the Lawrence Police Officers Association, said officers faced administrative sanctions, criminal charges and civil lawsuits if they misused their power.
"I'm looking at five people right here," McAtee said to commissioners. "You are elected representatives of this community. We have a citizen review board, and it is sitting right here."
Hack and City Commissioner Mike Amyx agreed. Both said they had concerns about creating a new board that would serve as an oversight board of the police department. Instead, Amyx said residents needed to know they could bring any complaint to the City Commission.
"We'll make sure there is a review of concerns anyone may have," Amyx said.
Other commissioners stopped short of saying they wanted a board that could take actual disciplinary action against the police department. Some oversight boards have that authority, while others simply are responsible for alerting commissioners or other city leaders to potential problems. The city does have a citizens panel - required by state law - to review complaints related to racial profiling. The trio of commissioners said they wanted to study whether the role of that board could be expanded.
On the issue of Tasers, commissioners didn't have much disagreement. Commissioners heard a presentation by Capt. Steve Zarnowiec, who told of recent incidents where police officers had been kicked, punched, and in one case, stabbed with needle-nose pliers. In total, there were at least a half-dozen incidents in 2007 where a Taser likely could have protected the officer.
Commissioners also heard some public support for the Taser plan. Rob Farha, a local bar owner, said he had seen police be extremely responsible with other weapons such as pepper spray. He encouraged commissioners to approve the department's request.
"If this is a tool that can prevent the use of lethal force, let them experiment with the technology," Farha said.