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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Brockville (Ontario) police not planning review of the use of tasers

October 24, 2007
MICHAEL JIGGINS, Brockville Recorder & Times

The chairman of Brockville's police services board said Monday he hasn't seen any evidence to have him calling for a review of the use of Tasers by city police. "From our standpoint when we made the decision we reviewed carefully the facts for and against it," said King Yee Jr. "We looked at it as being in our best interest as a police service to use the Tasers and I don't see that changing." Yee's comments come after Amnesty International last week called for Canadian police forces to suspend use of Tasers out of fears for public safety.

Within the past month, three people have died in Canada after they were tasered and Amnesty said that number totals 18 since 2001. Brockville Police Chief John Manoll was also standing by the weapon, which was approved for use here by the police board in September 2005. "Are we reviewing our use of Tasers? No, we believe them to be safe," said Manoll. Like any police policy, Manoll noted use-of-force guidelines including those involving Tasers are reviewed annually by the department. "But in light of these three incidents we're not going to conduct a special review at this time - unless it's called for by the scientific community," he said. The chief said while some have attempted to link deaths like those recently to the Taser, subsequent coroner's inquests have cited other causes of death. "All of the deaths that I'm aware of that have resulted after the use of a Taser, usually the individual is under an overdose of drugs," noted Manoll.

The city force is equipped with 14 Tasers, which fire a pronged wire and incapacitate a person by delivering a jolt of 50,000 volts. Under provincial regulations, frontline constables cannot carry the weapons - they are only issued to supervisors on each platoon and to the department's nine-member emergency containment team. The supervisor at the Brockville courthouse is also equipped with a Taser, said Manoll. All officers authorized to carry a Taser must pass a certification that's reviewed annually and have been tasered themselves by a fellow officer. In their first full year of deployment in 2006, Tasers were used or drawn 22 times in Brockville incidents. To date this year, Manoll said the weapons have been drawn 18 times and used five times. The chief said there have been no cases in Brockville of serious injury stemming from their use. "It's another option to the use of a handgun," he explained, adding, "If a handgun is used, there are going to be casualties."

OPP in Leeds and Grenville are also equipped with Tasers, following the same provincial guidelines as city police. Sergeant Randy Peacock said rather than suspending their use, provincial police are reviewing the possibility of expanding their deployment. Given that the force covers such a wide area of the province, he said it's not always practical to wait for a supervisor to arrive on scene. "We would like to see more Tasers deployed across the province," said Peacock, the OPP's provincial training co-ordinator who is stationed at their headquarters in Orillia. Peacock echoed Manoll's comments regarding the effectiveness of the weapon. "Our members are having a great deal of success utilizing Tasers," he said. Asked how he defines "success," Peacock responded, "We've been able to use an intermediate weapon when the other suitable selected option might have been a lot more fatal."

As to deaths from those suffering an overdose or in a state of what's known as "excited delirium" after being tasered, he said the underlying medical emergency is the factor. "When somebody says Tasers are causing death, I don't believe - nor does the coroner - that that is the case," said Peacock. He pointed out OPP try, whenever possible, to mitigate the possible consequences of using a Taser by having medical attention on standby if they know they are responding to a scene where an overdose has someone in an agitated state. "We would call an ambulance en route to calls," said Peacock.

Meanwhile, Manoll had this advice to eliminate the risk entirely: "A surefire way to never be tasered is to behave yourself and comply with an officer's request."

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