As a native Minneapolitan who has never lived in any other city in Minnesota, nor wanted to, for the first time in my life I am envious of our neighbors to the East. It should come as no surprise to any long time reader ot the Great Roll Call that I wholeheartedly endorsed Mel Carter for Mayor of St. Paul and that was even before the racist smear campaign waged by the Police Federation that backfired so spectacularly and blew back in the face of the cops handpicked lackey, Pat Harris. In what was believed to be a tight race, Mr. Carter, a former St. Paul City Council member, absolutely trounced the benefactor of the St. Paul Police Federation's failed attempt to hijack the election by approximately a 2-1 margin in votes.
But Mel Carter's success cannot be attributed solely to the police union's stupidity, rather Mr. Carter is a principled man of substance who believes in investing in St. Paul, its infrastructure and people. Mel first came to my attention back in 2008 during the build up to the Republican National Convention which was held in St. Paul that summer. The city was inundated with cries for law and order and a debate arose over how to spend nearly a quarter of a million dollars of the public's money. The St. Paul Police Department wanted to blow it on more tasers. This caught my attention and I could not resist speaking out on the topic. I reprint below 3 of my posts from those times which include my interactions with then City Council member Carter.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Re: Agenda Item for Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Proposal for St. Paul Police Dept. to Purchase an Additional 230 Tasers
During these troubled economic times of recession and budget constraints, the St. Paul Police Department is asking the city for $210,000 to buy an additional 230 Tasers so every patrol officer in the city will have a stun gun. Tom Walsh, a spokesperson for the police department claims: "Using the Taser has allowed us to take people into custody without using deadly force, without using a degree of force that would cause a police officer to use a firearm or an additional force that would leave a person injured". "So we find them to be effective and probably safer for both the police officer and the person who's being arrested," Walsh said. (See MPR article of 2/18/08.)
At first blush, if Walsh's claims are in fact true, the logic sounds reasonable and $210,000 is a very small price to pay to save even one human life, be it an officer or a citizen they are attempting to subdue. Unfortunately, reality is never so simple and neat, especially when it comes to questions of expending the public's money on safety. Fear sells. The danger, however, is build it and they will come. Buy it and they will use it, too often and with disastrous, unintended consequences.
These devices, like Officer Walsh stated, are marketed as non-lethal alternatives to firearms. Had the marketing of these devices stopped there it would have been one thing, but as with the marketing exuberance that surrounds any product, uses for the products were promoted that far exceeded the concept of an absolute last chance alternative to the use of deadly force. Soon devices such as the Taser were promoted as a means of gaining quick, safe control over a situation that use to be done through verbal commands and calm and respectful reasoning. But the old ways didn't cost money and took time. Let's face it, low tech is boring.
In today's fast paced society, we have been conditioned to strive for efficient and economical methods of performing any task. We have all seen the controlled demonstrations of stun guns on t.v. where they would solicit a volunteer from the agency or organization they were marketing the product to and hit them one time with a jolt and the person is temporarily incapacitated, but recovers in a few minutes, no less for wear, or so it seems. Therefore the decision on behalf of law enforcement to escalate to the use of devices like the Taser is no big deal. Give every officer one of these devices and the risk of misuse multiplies.
The overwhelming anecdotal evidence is that when these devices are used on persons displaying erratic, agitated behavior, whether due to the influence of mood altering substances or organic mental illnesses, precisely the type of people the product is marketed for, the results have proved to be fatal in hundreds of cases.
Just last month, a Fridley man was on the way to pick up his parents at the airport, got into a fender bender and roadside confrontation. Although 5 state troopers responded to the accident scene and presumably, with that display of force, should have been able to control the situation. For reasons that remain unknown at this point due to an ongoing investigation, the troopers resorted to the use of a stun device and the man died.
Remember the news story from last year of the Polish immigrant who did not speak English and was lost at the Vancouver airport. He actions were viewed as suspicious and reported to the Canadian Mounties who immediately escalated to the use of the stun gun when they misconstrued his inability to communicate as resisting and the man died. Fortunately a passing tourist recorded the incident with a cell phone camera, which directly contradicted the Mounties version.
With a large immigrant population in St. Paul, do we really want to rely on the fortuity of passing citizens to keep law enforcement in line if every patrol officer has one of these devices?
Furthermore, once the industry learned of the mounting death toll as a result of the use of their device, did it act responsibly? Responsible as the tobacco industry. If you think I exaggerate, just see National Public Radio reporter Laura Sullivan's excellent two-part series from February 26 and 27, 2007 entitled
Death by Excited Delirium: Diagnosis or Cover-up? http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=7608386
Here is some food for thought from the attorney who established police takings liability in the state of Minnesota: you are opening the city up to potential liability that will make the expenditure of $210,000 look like pennies. Spend the money on training, mental health issues and more cops. It may be low tech and not very sexy, but at least you won't be raising taxes to pay millions in damages and attorney fees to people like me.
Posted by Plainsense at 9:34 AM
Thursday, February 21, 2008
“In a financial public hearing that turned into a referendum on the weapon, the St. Paul City Council gave the green light for the police department to spend $210,000 in seized drug money to buy 234 Tasers. That vote was 6-1, with Council Member Melvin Carter III voting against.
But moments before, a move intended to reroute the money and spend it on summer crime prevention programs failed 4-3. Council Member Lee Helgen authored the move, and Carter and Council Member Russ Stark backed it.”
Hopefully for their sake, St. Paul City Council members Bostrom, Harris, Lantry and Thune, won’t someday look back and regret the choice they made yesterday, either because some citizen lies dead due to the unnecessary use of a Taser by a member of the St. Paul Police Department or because one of the city’s young people got mixed up with drugs, gangs and/or crime because of a lack of summer youth programs. Sadly, it is not very likely because the type of person who would choose to spend more money on weapons for the police department over summer programs for the city’s disadvantaged youth are most likely the same caliber of cynics who never see the consequences of their own actions because they are too busy pointing their privileged fingers of blame at others.
I find it ironic but not unusual that it was the son of a cop and the only person of color on the council, Melvin Carter III, who represents Ward 1, that had the background, experience and wisdom to be the sole vote in opposition to the eventual decision to spend the people’s money on more Tasers for the police. But I must say, hats off to Council Member Helgen who authored the progressive plan and Council Members Stark and the aforementioned Carter, who supported the alternative to spend the $210,000 in drug forfeiture monies on something peaceful and constructive instead of perpetuating the violence and destructiveness from which the monies came.
Unfortunately, just like this country’s foreign policy, we would rather spend money on weapons systems than on programs which project our soft power and are often much more effective.
Posted by Plainsense at 7:56 AM
Date: Wed, 20 Feb 2008 13:41:48 -0600
Subject: Re: Proposal to Purchase an Additional 230 Tasers
Thanks for the information... I will be voting against the
expenditure for tasers.
Council Member, Ward 1
City of Saint Paul
Posted by Plainsense at 7:42 AM