Sanity has prevailed in an Iowa town where officials had been selling raffle tickets for the right to shoot a human being with a taser at a festival coming up this weekend.
When I first read about Van Meter’s hook for selling $5 raffle tickets, I almost wondered whether the copy in MacKenzie Elmer’s report for the Des Moines Register got swapped out for a story from The Onion. I mean, what could go wrong with this plan?
The raffle winner will get the chance to use a Taser on City Administrator Jake Anderson or Councilman Bob Lacy at the Van Meter Fire Association Street Dance on July 18.
“I volunteered to be tased,” Anderson said.
A police officer will assist with the tasing, with the proceeds going to help the department purchase a second squad car, add speed radar and possibly expand its six-member part-time and reserve force.
Anderson said the idea came up during a meeting with police about funding.
A bunch of reckless teenagers might be inspired to compete for the right to tase someone, but who would have guessed that a group of thinking adults–some working in the public safety field!–would green-light this idea?
A local pastor generously sought to buy as many tickets as possible, hoping to win the raffle and “spare the officials the shock.” The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa recognized that the danger here wasn’t only a risk of injury to the volunteers. Elmer reported last week,
“I think it looks terrible. There are a lot of issues in the public eye over policing and too much use of force,” [ACLU of Iowa Executive Director Jeremy] Rosen said. “(This) basically suggests Tasers are harmless and use of Tasers are not serious when in fact we know just the opposite.” […]
“I think our point of view is that the Taser is an item that we police officers use across the country in lieu of deadly force,” said [Police Chief Bill] Daggett. “There’s no making light of anything. … The public should understand that they are there and available and how they work.”
Daggett stressed the money isn’t just to bolster the police force, but to also purchase oxygen masks and defibrillators that officers carry daily.
A University of Iowa psychiatrist quoted by Elmer warned, “Even a 1 in 300 risk of injury is unacceptable,” adding that in rare cases taser shocks can kill someone. But the Van Meter police chief was unmoved:
Daggett said there would also be an educational component at the conclusion of the July 18 event. Each city official who could be tased is going to sign a waiver and get a release from their physician beforehand.
Raise your hand if you think that waiver would stand up in court if the volunteer had a heart attack or died after being tased for a charity stunt.
Fortunately, Elmer reported on July 14,
The city is modifying a plan that would have allowed citizens to purchase $5 raffle tickets for a chance to use a Taser on either City Administrator Jake Anderson or Councilman Bob Lacy at a celebration on July 18. Two businesses are promising money toward fundraising efforts if the city agrees to remove the human element from the Tasing.
Police Chief Bill Daggett said both businesses called Dallas County dispatch asking to speak with the him about modifying the event.
“They wanted an opportunity to get their company out in the public eye and do something good too,” Daggett told The Register. “We never expected to have national or international attention or expected to have companies say we’ll help you out.”
Kudos to the enterprising business owners for saving Van Meter officials from following through with a horrendous idea.
By the way, Elmer’s original report flagged an unexpected reason for a town to raise money for its police:
[Daggett] said the desire to expand the force isn’t the result of any crime increase in the town of roughly 1,100 residents. Van Meter is hoping to attract a data storage industry from companies such as Microsoft or Facebook.
Although the city has a patch of land suitable for that industry, those companies often require specific response times from police and fire services.
“It’s not a crime issue as much as it is a growth issue,” [Daggett] said. “It’s a way we can compete with Omaha and West Des Moines.”
For many years, local governments have engaged in expensive bidding wars, offering tax incentives or new infrastructure to lure huge, profitable companies.
Van Meter’s strategy is the first time I’ve heard of a town raising money to pay for personnel and police equipment it doesn’t need, to fight crime that isn’t happening or anticipated, in the hope of attracting a big-name corporate investor.
“Economic development” comes in some strange forms.