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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Some taser plans on hold

December 26, 2007
Chris Purdy, Saskatchewan News Network; CanWest News Service

SASKATOON -- In light of several ongoing reviews into the controversial use of Tasers, officials with Saskatoon Police Service and Saskatchewan jails have temporarily put off plans to expand their use.

Chief Clive Weighill said the Saskatoon Police Service has enough money in its capital budget to buy about 30 new Tasers, and he was planning to ask the board of police commissioners to approve their purchase this spring.

Currently, the force only owns two of the conducted energy devices, and they are strictly used by officers with the emergency response team. Since the pair of Tasers were put into use three years ago, one was deployed one time to help gain control over a man barricaded in his bathroom, said Weighill. He said patrol members would use the new Tasers, which include a small video camera and cost about $4,500 each.

But the plan is on hold until he sees the results of several national Taser reviews. "It's mainly because of the recent controversy," said Weighill. "We just want to wait and see what the research shows."

Police in Regina have said they have no intention of limiting their Taser use, despite the recent deaths. About two-thirds of each shift has access to a Taser, and it's expected all Regina officers will be equipped with Tasers by the end of 2008.

Judy Orthner, spokeswoman with Saskatchewan Corrections, Public Safety and Policing, said emergency response teams at jails in Saskatoon and Regina were in the middle of a Taser training course when the Dziekanski incident happened.

Training was also set to begin in Prince Albert, and two Tasers had been purchased for use at each of the three correctional facilities.

Orthner said the weapons are now locked in secure storage while senior officials wait for the many reviews to finish so they can determine whether the plan should go ahead. "We're paying close attention to the use of this type of equipment by other jurisdictions," she said.

Saskatchewan RCMP spokesman Staff Sgt. Doug Hardy said there are currently 278 Tasers in use at detachments throughout the province. In 2004, the year they came into use, the Tasers were deployed 130 times. Hardy explained the RCMP define a deployment as the weapon being removed from its holster to warn a suspect, whether its trigger is pulled or not. Taser deployments then declined to 114 times in 2005, 125 in 2006 and 88 so far this year, he said. Of a total 16 complaints about Taser use, 15 investigations found the weapons were properly deployed according to policy, said Hardy. An investigation is ongoing into the remaining complaint out of Langenburg.

He said more thorough statistics are being compiled as part of national RCMP Taser review. Earlier this month, the RCMP's public complaints commission published an interim report recommending Tasers only be used on people who are combative or pose a risk of death of grievous bodily harm. In response, RCMP Commission William Elliot said that the force would agree to the policy change and would create an enhanced database on Taser use. The commission was also critical of the RCMP for not having accurate and meaningful data on when and why officers are using the weapons.

The commission's final report is expected by next summer. The B.C. government is also expected to hold a public inquiry into Dziekanski's death next year.

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