December 12, 2007
Rob Shaw, Times Colonist
A Victoria police expert in Tasers, whose involvement with the company that manufactured the devices sparked a conflict-of-interest investigation, says he backs a department proposal to ban officers from doing personal business with weapons manufacturers.
Sgt. Darren Laur, reacting to reports questioning his association with Taser International Inc., and its effect on subsequent reviews of the device, said he had the full support of the Victoria department to work with the company.
Still, he agrees that creating new guidelines, as the Victoria force plans to do, would help "separate perception and reality on these conflict-of-interest issues, because it can cloud the water," he said.
Laur's involvement with Taser began in 1999, when the company paid him as the Victoria department's use-of-force expert to travel to Arizona to train as a master instructor. Rival company Tasertron had also paid him to travel to train in California in 1998.
His training, and a 1999 report he wrote about the devices, made him Canada's foremost expert on Tasers. He is widely credited with introducing the devices to Canadian police, and the Victoria police became the first department to try, and then adopt, Tasers into regular use.
Laur also runs his own company, Personal Protection Systems Inc., which Taser paid a total of $498.07 US to travel to Alaska and Oregon to teach Taser use in 2000.
Laur's company, which he owns with his wife, went on to design a Taser holster. Taser International purchased the design for $5,076.25 US in stock in 2001. Laur cashed the stock in 2003, for an undisclosed amount.
Each situation was approved by the serving police chief, said Laur. "I've always fully disclosed that, and I've always been very sensitive to the conflict-of-interest issues," he said yesterday.
Nonetheless, an internal review of Laur's ties to Taser said he had projected an "apparent and perceived conflict of interest." The review, which concluded five months ago, was sparked by a a public complaint from Ontario resident Patti Gillman in 2005. Gillman's brother, Robert Bagnell, died in 2004 when Vancouver police hit him with a Taser during an altercation. After his death, Vancouver police asked their Victoria counterparts to conduct an independent review of Taser safety. Laur was appointed to the review panel, although he said he focused only on medical issues and not Taser use because of his ties to the manufacturer. The final report contained a disclosure of Laur's business with Taser. Gillman hired a lawyer and filed a complaint.
Victoria police Insp. Cory Bond's subsequent internal investigation concluded Laur was not technically in conflict because he fully disclosed his dealings with Taser, had sold his stock nine months before the report, and received department approval for all his actions.
However, Bond also wrote there "remains a reasonable perception" that he "might have been affected by his prior financial interest in Taser." In retrospect, the department should not have put him on the review panel, she said. The B.C. Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner, which reviews internal investigations, agreed with her report.
Despite the findings, acting police chief Bill Naughton said Laur has been "upfront and straightforward from the very get-go and I think suggestions he has been otherwise are incorrect."
Gillman said she is not pleased with the investigation. "I would like to see police and weapon manufacturers held at complete arms length from each other," she said yesterday.
As a result of the complaint, Victoria police have proposed a step towards such an arrangement.
The department wants to ban officers from doing personal business with weapons manufacturers as part of a pending overhaul in its conflict-of-interest policies. Under the rules, officers who train with weapons companies as part of their duties would not be able to profit by creating a private business and becoming trainers for the weapons company.
Weapons companies often pay for officers to attend their own training seminars, hoping it will encourage a police force to buy their products, such as Tasers, bean-bag guns, incapacitating sprays or other items. It is a common, but largely unexamined, area of concern in North American policing, said Naughton.
"This is not a Victoria issue alone, this runs across Canada, and as far as I know we're the only agency across Canada trying to take a serious look at this issue," said Naughton.
The conflict-of-interest rules will also force Victoria officers to fully disclose the private businesses they run outside of policing, their stock holdings and any business ties that could be conflicts. The guidelines are being reviewed by department lawyers before becoming official policy, said Naughton.
Meanwhile, Laur said he thinks people are trying to put blame on his Taser reviews because of recent deaths that occurred after Tasers were used on suspects.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
December 12, 2007