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Academia clutters Florida Taser incident

College campuses are typically places of open-mindedness and liberal thinking. And that's likely part of the cause of and hinderance to the solution of the Tasering of a student at a speech by former Presidential nominee John Kerry at the University of Florida yesterday. During a question-and-answer period with the Massachusetts Senator, UF student Andrew Meyer became quite animated while asking a question. To his credit, Sen. Kerry, had no problem with Meyer's exuberance. The same cannot be said for UF Police officers.

The video of what happened as the officers dragged, wrestled, handcuffed and eventually shocked Meyer with a stun gun has already been played ad nauseum with no end in sight. Call it academia's version of the Rodney King beating, though with far less dire results.

Today UF President Bernie Machen announced an internal investigation into the matter, as well as an external review by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He also said today the university would form a group of students, faculty and staff to review the incident and security policies on campus, including the use of Tasers. And here we go. Free-thinking is once again about to trump common sense.

You see, sometimes you don't need to empanel a blue-ribbon commission to review situations. Sometimes the evidence speaks for itself. Meyer has a history of pulling pranks and acting having a flair for the dramatic. The cops involved seemed to have overreacted a bit from the very beginning and very much when one fired the Taser. Do we really need to hold feel-good committee sessions? Let the FDLE and UPD investigations work themselves out. Let the State Attorney charge Meyer and the officers involved accordingly.

I used to work in Gainesville, FL. I know the State Attorney for the area, Bill Cervone. He's good. He'll handle it all the right way without pandering to the media circus that is likely to ensue. FDLE typically does a good job with these things, too. But, no. They're gonna hold hands, sing Kumbaya, whatever. And that's the problem.

Having lived and worked in and around several major universities (University of Georgia, University of Florida, University of Kentucky), I can tell you there is often a bit of a chip on the shoulders of the campus police officers and even officers who work for local departments around the schools. That's not to paint all the officers with a broad brush, but it's not a minor issue at many big schools. And to some degree, I can't say I blame the officers all the time for having that attitude problem. Perhaps it's working around a lot of educated young people, many of whom have this sense of entitlement, especially the kids of wealthy school donors. I saw that happen while I was a student at UGA. When the school president reprimanded the campus police for hand-cuffing a DUI suspect who's dad happened to give lots of money to UGA, the cops responded by slacking on enforcing DUIs on campus for a semester. That kind of attitude was rampant during my time at UGA. Some officers, especially some in charge, seemed to be a little too cowboy, if you will, treating students, even the good ones, with little respect. The situation wasn't much different at UF. While covering the murder of a foreign student on campus, I had the police department's spokesperson repeatedly lie to me during interviews. He and the chief, who is still in charge, didn't understand why my boss and I were upset that instead of telling me he couldn't talk about certain aspects of the investigation (a typically acceptable answer from police for a journalist), the spokesperson just decided to make up facts. When that's coming from the top, you can only imagine how things trickle down to the rank and file.

Again, I'm not saying all police officers are like this. Far from it. In fact, the vast majority (I'm talking 99.44%) of law enforcement officers I've met are truly good and honorable people who believe in the job they are doing and do it with pride. Any organization, whether a police department, an office, a media outlet, whatever, is inevitably going to have a bad apple or, too. What happened yesterday at UF seems to prove that. But you might act like that, too, if you had to deal with so many pompous, self-righteous students. And that brings me back to my original point: Academia sometimes gets in its own way.

Free thinking is great. Open discussion is great. Civil discourse is great. But use it when appropriate. Don't patronize the majority of good officers of the campus police department by satiating the irrational demands of overly-outraged students by saying you'll discuss the use of Tasers on campus. A Taser may have been misused in this case, but the cops need them for the real problems. Just imagine what happens when something really does get out of hand on campus, and the only way to control the situation winds up being far more injurous and even lethal force, like a gun, nightstick or pepper spray. What are the cause-heads going to say then?  Let the professional investigators sort this out. Take the appropriate action when the investigation happens. Make sure it never happens again. But save your time and energy when it comes to convening campus-wide panels.

By: Kevin Wuzzardo


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