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Thursday, November 22, 2007

B.C.'s top Mountie extols value of tasers

November 22, 2007
IAN BAILEY, Globe and Mail

VANCOUVER — British Columbia's police chiefs are worried the furor over the case of Robert Dziekanski may discourage officers from using tasers in confrontations when "split-second" decisions are required, the RCMP's B.C. commander says.

"It has been discussed by us as a possible concern," Deputy Commissioner Gary Bass said yesterday from Victoria, where the British Columbia Association of Chiefs of Police is holding a meeting on policing issues. "We worry the impact of some of that publicity might create that reaction in members."

At the request of B.C. Solicitor-General John Les, the chiefs have been reviewing taser policy and are expected to issue a statement today.

Deputy Commissioner Bass would not disclose the conclusions the police commanders have reached.

"Through the discussions we had today, we all have a similar perspective on the taser issue," he said. "I can say that." But he said in an interview yesterday he criticized the news media for drawing some conclusions about the case of Mr. Dziekanski, ahead of investigations into the matter. "That's what I think is unfair to the men or women because it further complicates that split-second process," he said, referring to the use of tasers in confrontations with suspects.

"Our concern is around the fact that the decisions they need to make about which weapon they're going to use, or which tool they're going to use, is a split second," he said. "That split second could mean the difference or the life of the suspect or the life of another member of the public if they make the wrong decision."

Any blame for the improper use of tasers has to rest with police managers, Deputy Commissioner Bass said. "If something goes wrong, the blame shouldn't be on them. The blame should be on me and senior management, and I think that's one of the big concerns I see here."

But he said he was not prejudging the case at Vancouver International Airport, where Mr. Dziekanski died last month after being blasted twice with a taser in a confrontation with four Mounties. They came to the scene in the international arrivals area of the airport after reports that Mr. Dziekanski, 40, was being disruptive after arriving from Poland.

The four Mounties who dealt with Mr. Dziekanski were reassigned to other duties within two days of the Oct. 14 confrontation, partly due to concerns about their safety, Deputy Commissioner Bass has said previously. He said he has spoken to the four men about their situation as they await the outcome of a police investigation by the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team, operating in the Lower Mainland.

Federal Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said this week that the officers could face criminal charges if culpability is assessed.

"I think they're doing okay. They're very mature individuals, very dedicated, very concerned over what's happened, and I think they're doing okay," the deputy commissioner said.

The officers are "absolutely" looking forward to telling their story at a coroner's inquest into the case, he said. That inquest was yesterday scheduled to begin on May 5, 2008. It is to run until May 16. A statement from the B.C. coroner's service said a five-member jury will hear evidence from subpoenaed witnesses to determine the facts around the case.

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