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Monday, November 19, 2007

Police weapons expert says tasers save lives, prevent injuries

November 19, 2007
The Canadian Press

VICTORIA - A police weapons expert says Tasers save lives and he personally believes he would have killed several people in the line of duty if it wasn't for his Taser. Victoria Police Const. Mike Massine said Monday he used his Taser on several occasions to diffuse tense situations where use of deadly force with his firearm was the next option.

The B.C. government announced a public inquiry Monday into the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski last month at Vancouver airport. Dziekanski, 40, died shortly after being hit by a Taser jolt from one of four RCMP officers at the scene.

B.C. Solicitor General John Les said the inquiry will examine policy governing the use of Tasers by police in British Columbia, but stopped short of ordering an immediate moratorium on Taser use.

Massine said the Victoria Police was the first police department in Canada to start using Tasers in 1999. There has not been a Taser-related death in Victoria. "Tasers are saving lives," said Massine. "We've got independent studies from American police agencies, Canadian police agencies, United Kingdom police agencies, that show that the use of this tool has lowered the number of injuries to police officers. It's lowered the amount of injuries to the subjects that it's being applied to.

"And I can tell you from personal experience, had I not had a Taser at my disposal I may have had to shoot and kill more than one person because they were armed with knives," he said. But Tasers should not be considered a replacement for guns. "What you have to understand is that when I used this conducted energy weapon (Taser) on somebody armed with a knife, I had somebody watching my back with a pistol. It works in concert with lethal force. It's never intended to replace it." Massine said he helped develop the provincial and national standards for Taser use by police officers.

Former Victoria police chief Paul Battershill led a nationwide review of Taser use by police. The review recommended police continue using the weapons. Battershill has recently been suspended from duty by Victoria's police board for allegations that have yet to be made public.

Massine said police officers are given a five-hour Taser operations course that includes theory and field training. "It includes some hands-on use of the weapon, shooting at targets, and also at the end of the day, it culminates in a reality -based training scenario," said Massine. Those learning to use the weapons are put through an excercise in which an actor in protective gear and the trainee act out a high-stress scenario.

Massine said police Taser-use guidelines have not changed since 2005. He said the Taser does what it's supposed to do without causing the injuries or deaths other police weapons like batons and guns can cause. "It is painful, there's no doubt about it," said Massine. "It does work on pain compliance. Every time I've been exposed to it, which has been about a dozen times for five seconds, it hurts. It has left me unable to fight. But the thing with the Taser is once it's turned off, I no longer feel the affects."

Victoria Police Const. Grant Hamilton said his department has used the Taser 18 times this year and 17 times last year. He recalled one situation this year where police used the Taser to prevent a woman from committing suicide. The woman had a knife and had already slashed open her legs when police fired the Taser to prevent her from doing more harm to herself. Hamilton said the police will abide by any changes recommended by any provincial or federal reviews of Taser use by police.

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police announced last week the Canadian Police Research Centre will undertake a study on the safety and use of Tasers, also known as Conducted Energy Devices (CEDs).

Steven Chabot, president of the police chiefs association and deputy director general of the Surete du Quebec, said the research centre will look at how to evaluate evolving CED technology and encourage information-sharing on the devices.

RCMP Commissioner William Elliott said over the weekend that the four officers involved in the Taser incident at Vancouver International Airport have been reassigned. He said he had not spoken publicly about last month's altercation until now because he wanted to let investigations run their course.

Public outrage erupted after video footage of the Taser incident was released last week. The video showed officers zapping the distressed Polish immigrant twice, and then physically subduing him on the floor. Dziekanski died at the scene. Victoria man Paul Pritchard was at the airport on Oct. 14 and witnessed and videotaped police dealing with Dziekanski. He loaned his video to police, but ended up launching a lawsuit to get it back when police didn't return it after 48 hours. Pritchard's statement of claim said an RCMP official told him he may not get the video back for more than two years. Police gave the video back last week and it was seen worldwide after Pritchard made it public.

The announcement Monday that the B.C. government would launch a full public inquiry into the Oct. 14 death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport is the latest in a growing list of probes into the controversial incident:

-RCMP's Integrated Homicide Investigation Team looking at actions of the four Mounties who responded to the call that ended in Dziekanski's death.

-Ontario Provincial Police review of the IHIT investigation.

-B.C. Coroner's Service investigation, leading up to inquest next year.

-Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP self-initiated investigation, coupled with complaint from B.C. Civil Liberties Association, monitored by independent observer.

-RCMP-ordered independent officer review of police actions in the incident.

-Review of policies on Taser use ordered by federal Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day.

-B.C. public inquiry into circumstances surrounding Dziekanski's death and Taser policies and procedures by police in the province.

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