When tasers first became available for police use they seemed to be a reasonable tool for police enforcement. It was assumed (I think) that they would be used as an alternative to an officer using deadly force. If that was the case, recent history has shown that police officers now seem inclined to use the taser with very little provocation.
The past few weeks – since the death of polish traveller Robert Dziekanski after being tasered by RCMP officers – the media around the world has focused on the taser’s use in law enforcement.
But Dziekanski is not the first to die after being tasered by police.
A November 18th, 2007 article on CNN.com reporting on the death of a tasered man in Maryland notes that Amnesty International claims that since June 2001, more than 150 people have died in the U.S. after being subdued with a stun gun.
An Amnesty International report issued on November 30, 2004 noted that in the previous 15 months 9 Canadians had died after being tasered by police.
And since Dziekanski’s death two more people in Canada have died after being tasered by police. One in a Nova Scotia jail and the other, Robert Knipstrom, in Vancouver.
In Knipstrom’s case he was also pepper sprayed and struck with batons by officers in an effort to control him. Dziekanski was tasered a number of times and had police officers kneeling on his back to hold him down.
This November in Kelowna, a 68 year old stroke survivor was tasered twice by RCMP officers over a a disputed double parking incident, all the while being told by the man’s wife of his condition. Fortunately, he survived the attack. It is however n example of how indiscriminately police have begun to use the tool.
There is no question in my mind that the taser can be a useful tool in enforcement. But it would appear that it is being used far too casually by police officers.
In spite of the problems that have shown up with taser usage, the Vancouver Police Department has decided to go ahead with the purchase of 70 more taser guns, more than doubling the number that they now have available for their officers, It will be interesting to see how the taser incidents increase once there are 70 more officers in the field carrying the units.