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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Tasers used too often, too soon, investigator says

November 22, 2007
Gloria Galloway and Ian Bailey, Globe and Mail

OTTAWA AND VANCOUVER — The man who will head a review of the RCMP's use of tasers following the death of a Polish visitor in the Vancouver airport says he is concerned they may be deployed too quickly and too often. Paul Kennedy, chairman of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, said Wednesday that there have been instances “where I thought it was being used inappropriately at too early a level of intervention.”

Through the review ordered this week by Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, Mr. Kennedy said he wants to get a sense of whether RCMP “policy and their model in terms of recourse to force is appropriate.” And he wants to find out whether officers “have thought about other devices. Have they been told that this is either a last resort or should be used at the higher end in terms of intervention?”

The inappropriate use of tasers is not a new concern for Mr. Kennedy. In his annual report tabled in June, he said one taser-firing incident led him to conclude that a review of the weapons was necessary. Mr. Kennedy pointed to the case of an intoxicated woman – he didn't name her – who was tasered by an RCMP officer and taken to the police station.

“That was okay in the first instance,” he said. But then “she is in the station and the device is used against her again. It's a woman handcuffed in a station when there were other officers there. I said that is inappropriate in my belief. The commissioner agreed with me.”

The review, Mr. Kennedy said, will provide an opportunity to look at the full range of cases in which they have been used and determine whether the rules are clear and are being followed. Even before Mr. Day requested the broad look, Mr. Kennedy launched an investigation into the conduct of the four officers involved in the arrest of Robert Dziekanski. That probe is in addition to separate reviews being conducted by the Canada Border Services Agency, the B.C. coroner and the Vancouver Airport Authority, as well as a public inquiry that has been promised by the B.C. government.

Mr. Day has requested that Mr. Kennedy's initial report be filed on Dec. 12.

Mr. Kennedy's expressed concerns about taser use prompted the co-founder of the company that manufactures the device used on Mr. Dziekanski to question whether the commissioner might hold some preconceived biases about the devices. “Is he already developing an opinion without all of the facts?” Tom Smith of Taser International Inc. asked The Globe and Mail from his office in Scottsdale, Ariz. “Because my response would be this device has more accountability features built into it than any other system in the world. It records every time the trigger is pulled, the date and the time.” Mr. Smith also noted that police tend to file reports on taser use. And he said some of his company's devices are equipped with cameras to record incidents in which they are used, leaving a visual record for later examination.

Taser International holds the data download feature up as an example of the weapon's accountability. That feature failed miserably on the two tasers used on my brother.

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