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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

RCMP watchdog to recommend changes on taser use

December 11, 2007
Jim Bronskill And Sue Bailey, THE CANADIAN PRESS

OTTAWA - The RCMP's public watchdog will make 10 recommendations Wednesday calling for swift action on how Mounties use Tasers as an international uproar over the powerful stun guns continues to reverberate. "They're recommendations for immediate implementation," said an insider familiar with the report to be handed to Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day. The report from Paul Kennedy, head of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, follows a furor over the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski. The 40-year-old man died Oct.14 after he was zapped with an RCMP Taser and subdued by officers at Vancouver International Airport.

Last month, Day asked the RCMP watchdog to look at how the national police force uses Tasers and to provide him with an interim report by Wednesday. The official who had seen a copy said Kennedy would not make "concrete" recommendations if "everything was hunky-dory."

The head of the national police force, however, said Tuesday he sees no need for Mounties to holster their Tasers. RCMP Commissioner William Elliott said a force-wide order to stop using the electronic guns could compromise the safety of both officers and the public. "Based on what we now know, we do not believe that there is justification for a moratorium," the commissioner said after appearing before a Commons committee.

Elliott noted the Taser is just one method of controlling a suspect, but made it clear he considers the stun gun a potentially valuable option. "And if that tool's not available then that in and of itself could result in a situation where the individual being apprehended, or the officer, might well be injured."

He says the Mounties are very interested in seeing Kennedy's report. But Elliott indicated the police force has found no glaring deficiencies with respect to Taser policy. "Our preliminary assessment, and I must stress it is only preliminary, is that our current policies and training are appropriate."

An analysis of 563 incidents by The Canadian Press found that three in four suspects Tasered by the RCMP between 2002 and 2005 were unarmed. Several reports suggest a pattern of stun-gun use as a handy tool to keep drunk or rowdy suspects in line rather than to defuse major threats.

"These are the kinds of issues that we're scanning," Kennedy said last month just after being tasked with the interim report to be delivered Wednesday. "Although it's a daunting task in terms of the timelines, it's one that must be done and which we'll do our best to do," he said at the time. "This is, I think, a welcome opportunity to have some input on a very significant issue."

Kennedy, a former prosecutor and senior public servant, had already begun an investigation into Dziekanski's death. He is also probing the RCMP's recent arrest of a man in Chilliwack, B.C., using a Taser, pepper spray and batons.

As part of the broader review requested by Day, Kennedy is looking at exactly where the Taser fits along the spectrum of options available to police. The six-level police force protocol begins with officer presence and builds in intensity to verbal commands; empty-hand control techniques; use of pepper spray, batons or Tasers; less-than-lethal force such as weapons that fire bean bags or rubber bullets; and finally deadly force.

Kennedy has been talking to RCMP experts, studying Taser-use reports filed by Mounties, case studies and scientific literature. His report is in addition to other Taser-related reviews in British Columbia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and nationally by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the Canadian Police Research Centre.

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