Tasers are not dangerous and all police officers should carry one but they are used too often and should only be used when there is a physical threat to the officer.
All of which was a mixed message from the spokespersons for the Canadian Police Association and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.
The Canadian Police Association and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police held a news conference Tuesday to outline a 13-point position paper on conducted energy weapons.
They spent almost the whole event defending the devices, and lashed out at claims they’re potentially deadly. They cited two cases where Tasers might actually have stopped people from killing themselves.
Ontario Provincial Police chief Julian Fantino taunted Taser critics, saying they’d never walked in an officer’s shoes and probably couldn’t even pass a basic training course.
“Tasers save lives and that’s the bottom line,” Fantino said. “We decided it was time to set the record straight.”
But the message remained muddled.
Police alluded to multiple studies that disputed Tasers’ capacity to kill – but couldn’t name a single research paper they’d consulted when pressed repeatedly for specific citations.
At the end of the news conference, officers acknowledged that Tasers had been used too often. And they conceded that the weapon has been used in cases where suspects presented no threat.
This after the RCMP earlier made a similar concession, admitting that there was a “distinct possibility” that tasers have caused several deaths in Canada.
A distinct possibility? Over 20 people have died in Canada after being tasered by police.
In fact the RCMP quietly changed its policy in June, 2008 to instruct their members to only use their tasers if there was a direct threat to an officer’s safety.
Much of this reluctant change in policy was driven by the death of Robert Dziekanski after being tasered by RCMP officers in the Vanouver Airport on October 14th, 2008. But it was only because a civilian had caught this incident on video and it became public that it generated so much negative publicity for the police.
There is definitely a place for the use of tasers by police. Certainly the taser is of great value in any situation where the only other option would be for the officer to draw his firearm. The risk to a suspect’s health from an electrical shock is certainly far less than a bullet in the chest.
But, as even the various police organizations admitted, the taser has too often been used improperly. Sometimes simply as a punishment.
One incident that did get reported and publicized happened in November, 2007 in Kelowna, B.C.
A RCMP superintendent has apologized to a B.C. senior who was Tasered last month after double parking his vehicle in downtown Kelowna.
However, Supt. William McKinnon said in a news release today his issue was not that the officer fired his Taser, but with the fact he used it while the victim was still in his car.
John Peters, 68, a newspaper carrier and stroke victim, told the media last month he was shocked twice with the weapon after two Mounties confronted him while he was briefly stopped on a downtown street.
Peters admitted he was double parked at the time and he drove away from the officers when they told him he was getting a ticket.
But that did not justify what happened next, his wife told CanWest News Service in November.
Peters stopped his car at the end of the street. And before he could get out, one of the officers blasted him with a Taser. Once he was out of the car, he was Tasered again, his wife said, and arrested for obstruction.
Today, McKinnon defended most of his officers’ conduct. Peters, he said, “failed to co-operate with police” and “exhibited combative behaviour,” which justified the use of the Taser.
However, he added that the officer erred when he fired the weapon while Peters remained seated in the car.
“We, in turn, regret this particular action and have apologized to Mr. Peters for this tactical error in judgment,” McKinnon said. “Due to the fact that such a serious error was made by the police officer in question, I have ordered a code of conduct investigation.”
In November, Peters was charged with obstructing the peace, resisting arrest and assaulting a peace officer.
But today, McKinnon revealed that the Crown wouldn’t proceed with any of the charges.
Now I don’t know this gentleman, but I have seen him on numerous occasions and he is a small, slight man who I find it difficult to believe would cause a police officer to feel physically threatened and I would suggest that if the officer was then he is in the wrong business.
But even then the RCMP official would not admit that the use of taser in this instance was improper, only that it shouldn’t have been used when the man was in his car.
A review of RCMP incidents showed that 4 out of 5 suspects hit by a stun gun were unarmed and that the taser was used more to ensure compliance than to stop a violent confrontation.
A Canadian Press analysis of Taser incidents reported by the Mounties reveals that more than 79 per cent of those zapped were not brandishing a weapon.
In just over one-fifth of cases, the suspect had a knife, bottle, club or other weapon.
The figures, compiled from hundreds of partially censored pages filed by RCMP officers, highlight police preference for the 50,000-volt tool that helps them control dangerous situations with usually minimal injury.
But they also suggest a pattern of use by the Mounties as a quick means to keep relatively low-risk prisoners, drunks and unruly suspects in line.
Hopefully the new policies voiced by the various police forces will be strictly enforced and we will see less casual use of the taser by police officers.