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Friday, December 26, 2008

Edmonton police taser use called unwarranted

December 26, 2008
Edmonton Journal

A man Tasered during a 2004 arrest in the midst of a parking-lot brawl in Edmonton did nothing to warrant such force, a police disciplinary hearing was told this week.

Insp. Neil Dubord, the presenting officer in the case, told the hearing Wednesday that officers "had physical control of Mr. Boik and he was no threat of a flight risk."

Boik claims he was Tasered by Const. Andrew Hoglund after he was handcuffed, an assertion that has been contradicted by other officers' testimony.

Hoglund is accused of unnecessary use of force. He also faces a charge of failing to file a report on the incident, to which he has pleaded guilty.

In previous testimony, Hoglund said his memory of the incident four years ago was "foggy." He told his hearing he doesn't specifically recall Tasering Boik, but admits it must have been him.

Staff Sgt. Bill Newton, who advocated for Hoglund, criticized the length of the investigation, saying it led to poor memories and contradicting testimony. "This was a confusing and con-founding incident that happened four years ago," Newton said. "This is another example of the profound effect that protracted investigations have."

A decision on the matter is expected Feb. 19.

In Hoglund's case, around 25 officers converged on a bar because a fight had broken out in the parking lot.

NYPD tests alerts for mentally ill citizens

By Rocco Parascandola

NEW YORK — The New York Police Department has a new alert system that lets officers know if they are responding to locations where police have previously been sent to deal with the mentally ill, an initiative sparked by the fatal 2007 shooting of a man who confronted officers with a broken wine bottle.

Under terms of the month-old initiative, a 911 dispatcher handling a "triggering incident" - anything from a "shots fired" call to an assault in progress - checks the computer database for that address. The idea is to see if it has been the scene of three previous incidents involving an emotionally disturbed person in the preceding 365 days, according to an internal NYPD order.

If so, the dispatcher tells responding officers about those incidents and sends to the scene an ambulance and the Emergency Service Unit, whose officers are best-trained to deal with the mentally ill.

A police patrol supervisor, who is usually armed with a Taser, is also sent to the scene.

The program is designed to strengthen what observers and critics have typically seen as a police shortcoming. Two deadly confrontations in November 2007, including one involving the man with the bottle, plus a recent case in which a naked man fell to his death after he was jolted with a Taser, illustrate the challenges police face in such circumstances.

The NYPD is also working with mental health officials to identify locations, such as group homes, that house the mentally ill, according to Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne, the NYPD's top spokesman.

"You don't want to leave it to an officer - hopefully the police officer on duty is one who happens to remember who lives there," Browne says. "It's better if we know in advance about these locations."

Police in Nassau and Suffolk have similar alert programs, which experts say could mean the difference between life and death.

"It's definitely not a cure-all," says Eugene O'Donnell, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. "But it gets the supervisor rolling early, it gets ESU rolling early and it gets the officers going there talking so they can tactically prepare for what to do."

The NYPD last year responded to 87,000 emergency calls involving an emotionally disturbed person, up from 64,000 in 1999.

A panel of city and state mental health and criminal justice officials earlier this year recommended the NYPD "establish flags within its 911 database" that would require a response by Emergency Service Unit officers.

Browne, though, said the impetus came earlier, following the November 2007 police shooting of David Kostovski, 29, a mental patient who came at them with a broken wine bottle in a street confrontation in the East New York section of Brooklyn.

Kostovski lived in a home with several other psychiatric patients, a fact police had not known.

Six days earlier, another psychiatric patient, Khiel Coppin, 18, was shot dead in Bedford-Stuyvesant when he moved toward police outside his building armed with only a hairbrush, but claiming he had a gun.

The new NYPD initiative would not have applied to his case because there had been no documented police responses at his home.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Texas man dies after deputies stun him FOUR times

December 24, 2008
Fox News, Houston, TX

Unidentified man, 46, Houston, TX, December 24, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Taser death: Taser International guilty as charged

December 23, 2008
By Jane Mundy, lawyersandsettlements.com

Salinas, CA: Robert Heston senior won his lawsuit against Taser International, but at a terrible cost. "I have a picture of my son under the Christmas tree and I miss him," says Mr. Heston, whose son was Tasered to death in 2005. "It is hard on all of us this time of year—we are a close family. You always think you are going first but when the kids go it takes a toll on you." And Mr. Heston has been in the hospital with heart problems on several occasions--he thinks it stems from anxiety over his son's death.

Mr. Heston remembers vividly that horrific day when his son—also named Robert—was Tasered repeatedly; Mr. Heston says his son was tasered about 30 times. "I guess the police kept doing it because they thought they didn't have full control over Robert—they couldn't handcuff him. But Robert couldn't put his hands up because he couldn't move." Mr. Heston explains that the police officers tried to pry Robert's hands from under his torso to handcuff him but he was paralyzed—so they Tasered him some more!

"The cops got off scott free," says Mr. Heston. "We lost the case against the cops but won against Taser. Policies need to be changed about Tasers; when they first came out the police had no idea what they could do to people because it was put on the market by Taser International as non-lethal, but we all know that isn't true now, after the fact."

"Losing Robert was devastating," says Mr. Heston's son-in-law, Kirk Kasner. "Since Robert's death I have done a fair amount of research and in my opinion, most law enforcement is not trained sufficiently—police officers get far more firearms training than they do Taser training. They have a preconceived notion the Taser is safe; they think Tasering someone repeatedly is harmless."

Kasner believes Taser International has downplayed the hazards and he questions their studies, mainly because a new product should be tested to failure—i.e., under what circumstances will it fail and how does it fail, not by testing a product to prove it is safe, as the weapons company has done.

The Court Case

Kasner says the case against Taser International was successful because the Heston family had exceptionally competent counsel—attorneys John Burton and Peter Williamson--and the jury pool was another reason. The San Jose area is a technology hub and the jurors had a good grasp of the technology—initially there were 3 engineers. A lot of the case concerned the product liability issues. "When it came right down to it, Taser had not been forthcoming with the true safety concerns of the weapon and they downplayed it to the police officers," Kasner explains. "And I believe if law enforcement had greater respect for the equipment and were more conservative with their applications, there would be fewer fatalities."

At the same time, Kasner believes Tasers do have a place within law enforcement; in the right setting there is potential. "But police officers are trained based on Taser's information and if that information is false, the snowball runs downhill," he says. "Taser is the root of training and policy and the police departments use their policies."

But their policies left the company open on liability issues and that is the main reason why the Heston family won the case.

"Taser claimed you could shoot each other with a Taser all day long but my brother-in-law died before the last discharge from the Taser was cycled (started and stopped)," says Kasner. "The trigger was pulled, my brother-in-law was shot with another 50,000 volts and it is possible, given that 3 officers were firing, that he was shot with 150,000 volts at the same time. Our lawyers have a chart that shows the cycling of the weapons which clearly shows the minute the first weapon was discharged and the last minute, and the sequence in the timeline of the event.

I can't find any fault in the jury, even though they acquitted the police officers; they stepped in and represented the community. But they found Taser International guilty.

What bothered me most throughout the proceedings was that there has been more response form other countries on this Taser issue than there has been from the US and our legislature. Look at the Canadian media—they are pursuing Taser aggressively and there are public inquiries. In the US, I think Taser has sold its story so well that we believe it. And many Americans see people who are Tasered to death as addicts and drunks—they are invisible to society. The only people who give a damn are the family members.

Taser has developed this Teflon image that nothing bad is going to stick to them—they sue coroners and medical examiners, they sue researchers that make findings contrary to their claims; they do personal litigation against individuals.

If not for my father-in-law pursuing this lawsuit, eventually somebody else would beat Taser. All he wants is justice. Nobody apologized from what happened that day, except at the end of the court case. The police officers gave condolences, but Taser said 'obviously we disagree with the ruling'…"

Monday, December 22, 2008

Newfoundland man shot with taser upgraded from critical condition

December 22, 2008
The Canadian Press

GANDER — RCMP say the condition of a man who was shot with a stun gun during a violent confrontation at a residence in a small community in central Newfoundland has stabilized.

Sgt. Wayne Newell says the 29-year-old was upgraded from critical condition in a hospital in Gander.

RCMP say the case of Michael Douglas Keats of Sandringham was heard today in provincial court in Gander. Keats, who was represented by his lawyer, was remanded into custody until Jan. 6, pending a psychiatric assessment.

He is charged with three counts of assault with a weapon, uttering threats, possession of a weapon dangerous to the public, two charges of mischief and seven charges of breach of undertaking.

Police have said two officers were forced to use a Taser the front of their vehicle was struck with an axe on Friday. They had been called to a residence in Sandringham where a man was reportedly wielding a knife and behaving violently.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Newfoundland man in critical condition after RCMP taser him

December 21, 2008
Canadian Press

SANDRINGHAM, N.L. — RCMP say they were forced to use a stun gun on an axe-wielding man during a violent confrontation at a residence in a small community in central Newfoundland.

Police said the 29-year-old was listed in critical condition Sunday in hospital in Gander, N.L.

RCMP spokesman Sgt. Wayne Newell said in an interview the two responding officers were forced to use a Taser on the man after he struck the front of their vehicle with an axe on Friday.

Newell said under the circumstances, the officers essentially had to choose between lethal force or the Taser.

"Our members had to act with just a moment's notice with the threat that was imposed on them and they deployed the conductive energy weapon (Taser) in order to ensure their own safety."

Newell said members from the Glovertown, N.L., detachment were called to a residence in Sandringham, N.L., where a man was reportedly wielding a knife and behaving violently.

He said while officers were making their way to the scene, the suspect called RCMP dispatch to report he had a shotgun and an axe and intended to cause harm.

When police arrived, Newell said the man became immediately violent and attacked the vehicle.

He said the officers backed away from the man and at that point, a family member intervened and tried to take the axe from his hands.

"That person backed off to a certain degree and the members had to deploy the conductive energy weapon in order to safely bring the person under control," said Newell.

Newell said the man fell to the ground after being hit and was quickly handcuffed. He was reportedly conscious and "continued to be violent" when he was placed in the back of the vehicle.

Newell said an ambulance arrived soon after and the man was taken to hospital.

He said the man was conscious and still aggressive at the time and it's too early to tell whether his current medical condition is related to being hit with the stun gun.

"We are working with the hospital staff and we want to determine whether any drugs were in his system," said Newell.

Newell said senior RCMP officials will conduct a mandatory review of the incident.

The man has been charged with three counts of assault with a weapon, uttering threats, possession of a weapon dangerous to the public, two charges of mischief, and seven charges of breach of an undertaking.

Another California man dies after police use a taser on him

Nathan Vaughn, 39, Santa Rosa, California

Friday, December 19, 2008

California man dies after police use Taser on him

Edwin Rodriguez, 26, San Jose, California

LETTER: Tasers are not safe

December 19, 2008
BY Linda Green, Columbia (Missouri)

Just as war is too important to leave up to generals, Taser use is too important to leave up to the police and to the for-profit Taser company, which has been running the show. In a community meeting, I heard the police officer, who is instructing local police in Taser use say, "Tasers are safe." In the face of the local serious injuries and the nearby death associated with police Taser use, I find that officer's statement chilling and grossly inaccurate.

Police Taser use is under scrutiny in communities all over the U.S., as we try to come to terms with a weapon that has not been sufficiently tested, and through experience, is proving much more dangerous than we originally thought. It is fine to look at police injuries before and after the introduction of Tasers, but we must not neglect the other side of the coin — injuries to the public by police use of Tasers.

It takes an informed and involved public and accurate and transparent information to preserve and run a democracy. Checks and balances are built into our governing system, and it is entirely appropriate that all these democratic principles apply to the public's desire to have the facts and input on police Taser use in our community. We have the right and even the obligation as citizens to question whatever governs us, including police Taser use, especially when drastic problems involving the public's rights are apparent. We must preserve our democratic citizens' rights to gain accurate and complete information, to require regulations sufficient to protect the public, as well as the police, and to insist that those regulations are followed.

Chief puts support behind Tasers

December 19, 2008
By Laura Drake, Edmonton Journal

EDMONTON — Police Chief Mike Boyd says he doesn't know of any officers who have chosen not to carry Tasers, despite testimony earlier this week from an officer at a disciplinary hearing that he doesn’t carry the device anymore due to potential controversy.

“I’m personally not aware of any officer recently that has tried to turn one in,” Boyd said at Thursday’s police commission meeting.

On Tuesday, Const. Mike Wasylyshen testified as a witness at a police disciplinary hearing that he has stopped carrying a Taser due to past criticisms of the devices.

Boyd was asked about the report at the meeting and asked to clarify whether or not officers can opt out of carrying Tasers.

The chief said since this is the first time the department has faced the issue, it has no precedent on how to deal with an officer who does not want to carry a Taser.

“We need to have a talk with these officers to see if that’s just talk or a firm position,” he said.

Boyd said he would prefer to see officers carrying Tasers, since he is convinced the devices have saved lives in the city and in Canada.

The Edmonton Police Service has 369 Tasers in service. Of those, 161 will be tested as part of an Alberta-wide study of pre-2006 models to check if the devices fire higher-than-expected voltages.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

taser audit

When Kingston Police Chief Steve Tanner announced last week that he would NOT be testing Kingston's 34 X26 tasers (in the face of a CBC report that showed the X26 manufactured prior to 2005 had the potential to output considerably higher voltage than the manufacturer claims), an editorial in the Saturday Kingston Whig-Standard said "Tanner's decision is hardly reassuring for Kingstonians. The main issue, after all, is not officer safety but public safety. It's as though someone had discovered that the 9-mm handguns used by Kingston police were leaving wounds indicative of much larger-calibre pistols-yet retesting or reassessment isn't necessary."

Today, it seems, Kingston police have been ORDERED to surrender their tasers for testing.

Now my question is: The following report says the tasers will be taken "to a lab near Ottawa." Would that be the same lab at the Canadian Police Research Centre (also NEAR OTTAWA), which was UNABLE to properly test the tasers which were used on my brother??

December 18, 2008
CKWS-TV Kingston

Kingston police have been ordered to surrender their tasers for testing. The province has launched a review of stun guns -- following a CBC investigation that revealed some older models give off more voltage than they're supposed to.

Kingston's top cop is confident the testing will confirm what they've been saying for years -- the stun guns are safe.


Police tasers are supposed to fire 50 thousand volts -- producing enough of a shock to disrupt muscle function, leaving a person momentarily paralysed. But controversy continues to short-circuit their use -- after several people have died after being tasered. Kingston Police Chief Stephen Tanner maintains it's a non-lethal substitute for a handgun -- safe enough to subdue an uncooperative or potentially dangerous person.


"So the taser is definitely a less lethal option from a fire arm. So it's good for the person that's being arrested, it's good for the officer because of all the ramifications, and certainly no officer ever wants to take a life."


Kingston police report using their tasers five times this year, the most recent case involving a man who was carrying a knife. In 2007 tasers were fired 7 times, and in 2006 just twice." But a recent CBC test of New Jersey police tasers found several X-26 models, the same type used by the Kingston force, sent out a higher voltage than specified by the manufacturer.

While Tanner questioned the accuracy of those results, he will comply with a provincial review of the stun guns. Kingston's 34 tasers will be sent to a lab for testing. He says the 17-hundred dollar cost -- or 50 dollars per weapon -- is a good investment.


"For public perception, their view of how safe they are, it's worth having them tested."

The chair of the Police Board is also confident the tasers are safe ... and will pass the test.


"However, I think it's in the public's interest that we not only be saying that that's true but can demonstrate that it's true by having them tested."

Chief Tanner says every arrest is different, and using a taser was justified rather than a gun.... in the five cases it was used this year.


"I would not have expected them to shoot that individual at that time. But certainly the taser was warranted and the person's in custody and not injuured, and the officers aren't injured, which is a big part for us as well."

There are an estimated 2-thousand tasers in use by police departments in Ontario -- not including those used by the RCMP.


Kingston police will start sending in their 34 tasers for testing next month ... only half of them will be tested at a time ... so police can keep the other half in use. They'll be taken to a lab near Ottawa.

Owen Sound tasers tested, chief says

IS THIS GUY FOR REAL???????? Can he REALLY be the vice-president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the CHAIR OF THE NATIONAL TASER COMMITTEE CURRENTLY WRITING A BEST PRACTICES POLICY FOR THE DEVICES??????? Will he recommend that all police "MANUALLY LOOK AT" (whatever the hell that's supposed to mean) their tasers to ensure they are "working properly"?????? God help us all.

December 18, 2008

The city's police chief says he has complied with a provincial request asking all police services in Ontario to test their Tasers to ensure they are working properly and to submit a stun gun inventory list as soon as this week.

"We manually looked at ours to ensure that they are working properly and we reminded all of our supervisors that there is a protocol that they have to follow," Tom Kaye said Wednesday.

"We check our (Tasers) every day. These are devices that need to be maintained and that is something we do on a very regular basis. We followed through with the request the day it was made."

The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services last week asked Ontario police services to conduct tests in response to a CBC report that found one Taser model, the X26 model made before 2005, was firing more electricity, up to 50 per cent more, than was specified by the U. S.- based manufacturer Taser International.

The report sparked a national debate on Tasers and prompted many forces, including the RCMP in several provinces, to take their conductive-energy devices to independent labs for testing.

None of the weapons tested were found to be working improperly, according to Kaye, who is also vice-president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the chair of the national Taser committee currently writing a best practices policy for the devices.

There are about 2,000 conductive-energy devices being used by police forces in Ontario. That list is yet to be broken down by model. Owen Sound Police Services has four Tasers, two X26 models and two M26 models, which are carried only by sergeants.

The provincial request does not require police services to report back to the province that they actually tested their Tasers, something Tony Brown, a spokesperson for Community Safety and Correctional Services, says they felt was an unnecessary step.

"It is the ordinary responsibility of police services to make sure their equipment works properly. We have every confidence they will carry out the examination and testing of Tasers as requested by the ministry," Brown said Wednesday.

"The request was made in view of some reports that indicated that there may have been issues with the older Tasers."

The province is also conducting its own review of Taser use and according to Brown, a report should be released early in the new year.

More than 20 people have died in Canada after being jolted with a Taser, which can deliver up to 50,000 volts of electricity. However, many of the deaths have been attributed to "excited delirium," a heightened state of distress in which a person acts agitated, violent, tends to sweat profusely and is seemingly impervious to pain. Often, the victim's heart begins to race and eventually stops.

The city's police force plans to replace its older model Tasers in the new year.

Norfolk police board boss urges review of taser use

December 18, 2008
DANIEL PEARCE, Brantford Expositor

The chairman of Norfolk's police board has called for an independent study on Taser use -- which has killed more than 20 people in Canada, including one in Norfolk -- to see whether it is safe to use it.

"The OPP has dropped the ball on this," Peter Hellyer said at the monthly meeting of the Norfolk police services board after pointing to stories in the media suggesting the devices can emit more of a shock than the manufacturer promises.

"There are all kinds of questions raised here. The safety of the machine is very suspect. This needs to be followed up on and followed up quickly."

After being peppered by a number of questions from Hellyer, Norfolk OPP Insp. Zvonko Horvat said he had no expertise on Tasers and would bring someone to the next meeting who could better explain how the devices -- used by police to subdue unruly and violent people -- work.

"If I you hit me with a wand on the head, I will get a bump but it won't kill me," said Hellyer, who reminded the meeting of the taser death last summer of a Delhi man, an incident that is still under investigation.

"You're raising a big question mark on use of this instrument," he said to Horvat. Police, Hellyer said, "should know how many times in a hundred it will misfire."

At least 20 people in Canada have died after being Tasered by police, raising questions about the device's safety.

Testing by the CBC found that four out of 41 Tasers generated electrical current that exceeded manufacturers specifications. The manufacturer countered that the tests were scientifically flawed.

Last June, Jeffrey Marreel, 36, was Tasered in the lakeside hamlet of Fisher's Glen. Reports from witnesses say Marreel, who had previous arrests for drugs and assault, was outside at the time acting strange and threatening passing cars with a long piece of aluminum. Marreel was Tasered, arrested and taken to the OPP detachment, where he collapsed. He later died at Norfolk General Hospital in Simcoe.

Hellyer noted that 280 people have died worldwide from the device. "That in itself warrants further concern. It is of extreme concern to the people on the (police) board and of Norfolk County," he said.

Municipal police forces in Winnipeg and Nova Scotia have banned the use of Tasers.

Sister of man who died after Taser used on him urges activism

As Canadians are learning the hard way, Coroners Inquests and Fatality Inquiries in Canada do NOT represent the interests of the deceased OR their families. As the Doan family and the Bagnell family and many others have found, these inquests and inquiries are more about "saving the taser" than they are about learning from these deaths and making intelligent recommendations to prevent further such deaths.

Officialdom is NOT the least bit interested in INDEPENDENT witnesses recommended by the families of the deceased. Instead, the taser fan club (the Christine Hall's of the world) is marched out at each and every Canadian inquest and inquiry. Christine has shown up with her "excited delirium" SPIEL at several, if not all, Canadian inquests, including my brother's. Even the weapon's manufacturer, TASER INTERNATIONAL, was granted standing at my brother's inquest with two lawyers from a large national Canadian law firm there to represent their vast interests and to OBJECT to everything that might have put the safety of tasers in question.

THIS MUST STOP!!!! But no one seems to "get it."

December 18, 2008

Families of people who have died after being Tasered by police need to fight for their rights at inquiries, says the sister of a young man killed in August 2006.

After closing arguments at an inquiry into the death of Jason Doan, 28, Surya Doan told reporters her family was shut down in their attempts to bring additional witnesses before the proceedings.

She urged the mother of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, who died shortly after being stunned with a Taser by RCMP officers at the Vancouver airport in October 2007, to continue pressing for justice.

Demand your own forensic pathologist," she said. Do not be shut up or shut out."

Doan said the inquiry looking into her brother's death would not allow the family to call a forensic pathologist of their choosing.

Jason Doan died 20 days after being Tasered three times by RCMP. Police had been called after witnesses saw him in a highly agitated state, talking incoherently and smashing windows on vehicles while walking down a street.

Surya Doan said the family requested two additional witnesses at a pre-inquiry conference in April but they were protested against by RCMP lawyer David Stam.

She suggested the inquiry was skewed" by the testimony of Dr. Christine Hall, an emergency room doctor from Victoria. Hall testified she received a $300,000 grant from the Canadian Police Research Centre and $100,000 from a justice department in the United States for her research into excited delirium.

Hall told the inquiry there could have been an underlying medical issue in Doan's case because when he was arrested there wasn't any trace of illegal drugs or alcohol in his body.

Hall also said people with excited delirium have an altered level of consciousness, can be incoherent and can engage in random violence and destruction.

In his closing argument, Stam said the officers who restrained Doan and those who investigated his death all followed proper procedures.

Stam said both the pathologist who performed the autopsy and Hall concluded there wasn't a causal link between the death and Taser use.

Will Willier, the Doan family lawyer, said Jason's behaviour may have been bizarre but it wasn't criminal.

He said the RCMP, emergency medical personnel and dispatchers for both agencies should receive specialized training in dealing with people who exhibit traits of excited delirium.

Provincial court Judge Monica Bast said she will try to make a report to the Justice Department minister as soon as possible.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

RCMP ignores House of Commons deadline

House of Commons
Report of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security
Garry Breitkreuz, M.P., Chair

June 2008

Recommendation 1

The Committee recommends that the RCMP restrict the use of the Taser gun by classifying it, effective no later than December 15, 2008, as an “impact weapon” rather than an intermediate weapon, so that its use can be authorized only in situations where the subject is displaying assaultive behaviour or posing a threat of death or grievous bodily harm to the police, himself or the public. This restriction should not be lifted before independent research has indicated that use of the Taser gun poses no unreasonable risk for the subject. IN THE EVENT THAT THE RCMP DOES NOT IMPLEMENT THIS RECOMMENDATION BY DECEMBER 15, 2008, THE COMMITTEE HAS AGREED TO INTRODUCE A MOTION IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS CALLING FOR AN IMMEDIATE MORATORIUM ON THE USE OF TASER GUNS BY THE RCMP.


EDITORIAL: taser report appalling

December 17, 2008
Halifax Chronicle Herald

A YEAR AGO, Canadians were horrified by video images of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski being repeatedly Tasered and then gang-tackled by four RCMP officers at Vancouver’s international airport.

Mr. Dziekanski, disoriented and exhausted after arriving in Canada on his first-ever international flight more than 10 hours earlier, died of cardiac arrest at the scene.

Unable to speak English and with apparently no one available who could communicate with him in Polish, he had wandered the arrivals area for many hours, growing increasingly agitated as his mother, who had been expecting him, failed to appear. His mother, meanwhile, had left the airport after being told her son had not arrived on the flight.

When the Mounties arrived, they were told Mr. Dziekanski did not speak English. Nevertheless, they addressed him in English. When he threw up his hands, turned around and picked up a stapler, they zapped him five times with their Tasers. They wrestled him to the ground and one officer put his knee on his neck, restricting his air supply.

The RCMP and their quick, repeated use of the Taser in this situation were widely condemned, both in Canada and internationally. The Dziekanski shooting intensified a nationwide debate on the police use of the controversial stun guns and has led to a number of reviews and inquiries, some ongoing or not yet started, on what happened.

But if someone similar to Robert Dziekanski stepped off a flight at Vancouver’s international airport tomorrow, the same thing could happen to them.

On Friday, the B.C. Attorney General’s report on the Dziekanski incident found criminal charges were not warranted against the officers involved. Given the loose nature of the RCMP’s Taser policy, that’s not surprising. But the report went further, calling the Mounties’ actions – which included five Taserings and the aggressive physical restraint of Mr. Dziekanski – "reasonable and necessary."

The RCMP were quick to say they’ve made changes to their Taser use rules since the event. But they also admitted those new rules would not have made any difference in the officers’ actions on the day that Mr. Dziekanski died.

Police forces in Canada continue to seem to be in denial about the public’s well-grounded concerns about police use of Tasers.

The RCMP and the office of the B.C. Attorney General are dangerously out of touch. If their rules say that what happened was OK, then their rules need to be changed, before another innocent person dies at police hands.

Opposition urges ban on RCMP using tasers - say Mounties missed MPs deadline to reclassify weapons

December 17, 2008
Jim Bronskill and Sue Bailey, THE CANADIAN PRESS

OTTAWA–Opposition parties want the RCMP to stop using Taser stun guns after the force refused to reclassify the weapons to restrict use.

The Liberals and NDP say the Mounties missed a parliamentary committee's deadline Monday to categorize the 50,000-volt electronic devices as impact weapons.

Reclassifying Tasers would limit use to situations where a person assaults police or the public, or poses a serious threat of harm or death.

An all-party committee of MPs called for the restriction last June until Taser safety claims are supported by impartial studies.

The public safety committee also said the RCMP should have strict guidelines to limit multiple firings.

The RCMP sent several of its Tasers for testing recently after a study commissioned by the CBC found four out of 41 guns discharged more electrical current than Taser International, the U.S.-based manufacturer, says is possible.

Liberal public safety critic Mark Holland says the Mounties have done little in response to concerns. "That's just not acceptable. It's not like they've had two weeks; they've had six months."

An RCMP spokesperson said no progress report was sent to the committee because Parliament isn't sitting. The RCMP says reclassifying the Taser as suggested could threaten police and public safety.

An August briefing for RCMP Commissioner William Elliott maintains the Taser "is an effective tool with very limited injury rates." The force says it has restricted Taser use and now requires officers be retrained each year.

More than 20 people in Canada have died after being hit by a Taser.

NDP deputy leader Thomas Mulcair said rules are unclear. The problem, he says, is people perceive "the Taser as being electric pepper spray ... something that could control someone who was in difficulty. Unfortunately now, with over 20 deaths, it's incredibly obvious ... they're too dangerous to be used without proper rules. And we don't have proper rules."

Holland says that doesn't go far enough. "For an issue that has demanded the national attention as much as this issue has, because of the fact that there have been serious injuries and deaths, we expected a lot more."

Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski died in October 2007 after RCMP officers repeatedly zapped him and pinned down at Vancouver International Airport. Amateur video of his wrenching final moments was beamed around the world as Tasers became water-cooler talk for outraged viewers.

Others defended the stun guns that remain an overwhelmingly popular tool with police.

Mounties across Canada have used their stun guns more than 5,000 times in the last seven years.

Tasers too much trouble

December 17, 2008
Ryan Cormier, The Edmonton Journal

EDMONTON - Some Edmonton police officers have chosen not to carry Tasers because of the controversy the weapons attract, despite believing the devices are valuable tools.

While testifying as a witness in a disciplinary hearing for two other officers, Const. Mike Wasylyshen said he has stopped carrying a Taser because of past criticisms.

In April 2004, Wasylyshen helped arrest a suspect after a lengthy car chase. While two other officers face disciplinary charges for using their Tasers that night, Wasylyshen chose not to use his.

"I had some bad luck with a Taser incident in 2002, to be honest," the officer said when asked why he didn't draw the Taser he had that night. "Using it would have been practical, it would have been justified. I just didn't utilize it. It would be a hassle for me to use it."

Wasylyshen said he has since turned in his Taser and has not requested another one.

In October 2002, Wasylyshen used a Taser to wake up Randy Fryingpan, 16, who was passed out in a car. The incident was heavily criticized and a judge later threw out a charge against Fryingpan.

Const. Darryl Fox, one of the officers facing a disciplinary charge for using excessive force, said he agrees with his fellow officers' opinions, even though he supports the Taser itself. It is the debate after its use that makes him wary.

"The Taser is an effective, life-saving tool that is beneficial to law enforcement," Fox testified. "However, I concur with Const. Wasylyshen in that I will likely never carry one again."

The two officers are not alone. Others avoid carrying Tasers to eliminate possible public complaints or disciplinary hearings that can shadow an officer's career for years.

Det. Shawna Goodkey trained many current officers on Taser use and said Monday that other officers have made the same decision as Wasylyshen and Fox. "There have been officers who don't want to carry a Taser because they don't want to be placed in a controversial situation," she testified.

Some officers believe that every time a Taser is pulled, rightly or wrongly, an internal investigation into their conduct could follow, Goodkey said.

Fox and Const. Ryan Sparreboom are currently facing charges of unnecessary force for an October 2004 incident in which each fired a Taser at Hector Jara, who was standing next to a car he had stolen.

Jara has said he did not receive any major injury from the Taser strikes.

Last October, a national furor arose when Mounties used a Taser on Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, who was upset and confused at the Vancouver airport.

The incident was captured on video, and Dziekanski later died.

Last week, the Crown announced that the four RCMP officers involved will not be charged.

Since the EPS began using Tasers in 2001, four people have died after arrests that involved use of the weapon. In three of those, fatality inquiries determined the Taser did not directly contribute to the death.

The fourth case is still under investigation.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Ontario orders testing of tasers

December 16, 2008
Tanya Talaga, Toronto Star

The Ontario government has quietly ordered a new review of some Tasers to make sure they are functioning properly.

Concerns arose following a CBC report that one model of the weapon, the X26, used by police forces sent out a higher electrical voltage than specified by the manufacturer. In British Columbia last week, all weapons acquired before Jan. 1, 2006, were pulled from service for further testing.

Results of an earlier Ontario review on all conducted-energy weapons should be out in the next few weeks, said Tony Brown, a spokesperson with the community safety and corrections ministry.

There are an estimated 2,000 conducted-energy weapons – models X26 and the M26 – in Ontario, Brown said, adding that number does not include the amount of RCMP devices in the province. "The ministry has asked police services to do an inventory and have tested X26 models manufactured before Dec. 31, 2005," said Brown.

The U.S.-based manufacturer of the device, Taser International, sent the Star a statement, responding to the tests done for the CBC: "It is unfortunate that false allegations based on scientifically flawed data can create such uncertainty. Taser International stands behind the quality and safety of its products ... Taser International welcomes proper testing of its devices and has provided its factory test protocols to test laboratories in Canada so police agencies can avoid the scientific errors made by the CBC."

Tasers are approved for use by the corrections ministry for police front-line supervisors, perimeter control and containment teams, and tactical units and hostage rescue teams. No deaths in Ontario are directly attributed to the use of conducted-energy weapons, said Brown. The Toronto Police Service last week said it would not conduct safety checks on any of its Tasers because all of the roughly 400 devices used by Toronto police officers were bought after Jan. 1, 2006.

Police use conducted-energy weapons because they are a less lethal option when dealing with dangerous or self-destructive people, said Ontario Provincial Police Sgt. Pierre Chamberland.

Last week, B.C. prosecutors announced there would be no charges against four RCMP officers who used a Taser to stun Polish citizen Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver airport before he died in October 2007.

A review found Dziekanski's death was not directly caused by the Taser jolts but they were a contributing factor, along with heart disease, alcohol withdrawal, and decreased ability to breathe due to an officer kneeling on him.

Amnesty warns of 'lethal' tasers

December 16, 2008
BBC News

Industry claims that Taser stun guns are safe do not stand up to scrutiny and tougher controls over their use are needed, says Amnesty International.

Taser guns - used by police forces around the world - deliver a 50,000 volt shock to disable suspects.

A report by the human rights group said Taser shocks caused or contributed to dozens of deaths in the US.

Amnesty urged governments to limit their deployment to life-threatening situations or suspend their use.

In its report on the use of Tasers in the US, Amnesty said between 2001 and August 2008, 334 Americans died after being subjected to a Taser shock, with medical examiners and coroners concluding that at least 50 of the deaths were caused or contributed to by the shocks.

'Open to abuse'

"The problem with Tasers is that they are inherently open to abuse, as they are easy to carry and easy to use and can inflict severe pain at the push of a button, without leaving substantial marks," said the report's author Angela Wright, a researcher at Amnesty International.

The study - which included information from 98 autopsies - found that 90% of those who died after being struck with a Taser were unarmed and many did not appear to pose a serious threat. Many were subjected to repeated or prolonged shocks - far more than the five-second "standard" cycle. Some people were even shocked for failing to comply with police commands after they had been incapacitated by a first shock.

In at least six of the cases where people died, Tasers were used on individuals suffering from medical conditions such as seizures - including a doctor who had crashed his car when he suffered an epileptic seizure. He died after being repeatedly shocked at the side of the road when, dazed and confused, he failed to comply with an officer's commands.

Amnesty said US police officers also used Tasers on schoolchildren, pregnant women and even an elderly person with dementia.

"Tasers are not the 'non-lethal' weapons they are portrayed to be," said Angela Wright. "They can kill and should only be used as a last resort."

More understanding

Tasers and other "conducted energy devices" are used in many countries, including Britain, Canada, France and the United States.

The manufacturers and police forces who use them maintain that studies show they are a safer alternative to using firearms to control dangerous or combative people.
However, the human rights group claims these studies are limited in scope and have pointed to the need for more understanding of the effects of such devices on vulnerable people, including those under the influence of stimulant drugs or in poor health.

"We are very concerned that electro-shock weapons such as Tasers have been rolled out for general use before rigorous, independent testing of their effects." said Angela Wright.

Last Friday, prosecutors in Canada opted not to press charges against four police officers seen on video using a Taser gun on a Polish immigrant in Vancouver airport in October 2007. The 40-year-old man, Robert Dziekanski, died within minutes.

EDITORIAL: Failing Mr. Dziekanski

December 16, 2008
Globe and Mail

British Columbia has given license to a frightening use of police power by endorsing the fatal tasering of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski. The force used by four Mounties on the unarmed 40-year-old was "reasonable and necessary," says B.C.'s Attorney General's department. Its report, a year in the making, blames the victim in this highly avoidable death.

No one who has seen the videotape of the last minutes of Mr. Dziekanski's life will find balance or fairness in the report released last Friday. Moments before police arrived, a woman approached the distressed traveller, speaking to him gently and without fear. That goes unmentioned. Instead, the B.C. report stresses that, when police surrounded him, he picked up a stapler. But is it reasonable and necessary in Canada to taser a man, and put a knee to the back of his neck, for picking up a stapler? Mr. Dziekanski was distressed and exhausted after a 30-hour trip, and unable to speak English. He was, predictably, terrified.

B.C. was sensible in saying that the Mounties should not be criminally charged in the Oct. 2007 death. It is the RCMP taser guidelines they acted under that are desperately out of whack. But the Attorney General's criminal-justice branch did not need to write an apologia for the Mounties. It did not need to share findings of startling irrelevance from the RCMP investigation of its own officers. Consider: Mr. Dziekanski was apprehensive when he boarded the airplane to Canada. (How dare he!) And he was a chronic alcoholic. (The report doesn't give specific details that would explain how it knows this.) Even if true, an autopsy found no drink or drugs in his system.

Yet the facts given to the B.C. criminal-justice branch in no way cleared the taser of responsibility for Mr. Dziekanski's death. Three unnamed forensic pathologists cited in the report said "the stress of the physical restraint worsened by the deployment of the taser" could have led to the cardiac arrest. Given that acknowledged risk, why should the taser, followed by the knee on the neck, have been necessary? If the risk is so high on a man sweating, dazed and breathing heavily, shouldn't police consider other options first? Why was it necessary to use the taser within 30 seconds of the police arrival on the scene?

The police had options. Time was on their side. The offer of a glass of water might have helped. So might an attempt to find someone who spoke Mr. Dziekanski's language.

This is the tragedy of the taser: It turns the officers who wield it into every bit the automatons that Mr. Dziekanski seemed. Police armed with the purportedly safe 50,000-volt stun gun simply couldn't see any other option. Thus Mr. Dziekanski's death became almost inevitable when the Mounties arrived.

Far from being reasonable and necessary, the tasering of Robert Dziekanski shows why the Canadian government should rewrite the Mounties' taser-use policy.

Amnesty calls for taser moratorium in new report

December 16, 2008
CBC News

There are more than 50 cases where coroners in the U.S. have listed a stun gun as a factor in a death, according to new research from Amnesty International.

The findings, contained in a report released Tuesday on Taser use in the United States, have prompted the human rights organization to reiterate its call for a moratorium on the stun gun's use until more medical and scientific studies have been done.

The report includes an independent analysis of 98 autopsy reports on people who died in the U.S. after being hit with a Taser. The analysis by a Norwegian professor of forensic pathology found many of those who died had received multiple or prolonged shocks and went into cardio-respiratory arrest shortly after. Some died at the scene while others were pronounced dead at a hospital.

If governments and the police are not prepared to put a stop to Taser use, the report says, Tasers should at least be put in the same category as a firearm — a weapon with the potential to kill.

The head of Amnesty International Canada, Alex Neve, said it is time for police to either stop using the Taser or severely restrict its use. "They need to immediately adopt polices that make it very clear that a Taser will only be used if the only other choice open to a police officer is to use his or her firearm."

The Amnesty report noted that while most of those who died were agitated, disturbed or on drugs, 90 per cent were unarmed.

Neve said putting the stun gun in the same class as a firearm should not just be a police policy, but should be backed up in law. "Governments should step in here and make it a criminal offense to use Tasers in other circumstances, to make it very clear that this is serious," he said.

Earlier this month, Amnesty International renewed its call for a moratorium on Taser use after tests commissioned by CBC News and Radio-Canada found some of the stun guns deliver a stronger electric shock than the manufacturer claims.

Of the 41 Tasers tested, four delivered significantly more current than Taser International says is possible. In those cases, the current was up to 50 per cent stronger than specified for the devices.

The X26 model Tasers evaluated were made before 2005, prompting some scientists to suggest police should stop using any older versions of the stun guns until they can be tested.

The RCMP has since said it's pulling X26 units acquired before the beginning of 2006 from the force for testing.

Monday, December 15, 2008

RCMP taser policies show force not learning from Dziekanski death: critic

December 15, 2008
The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER, B.C. — The RCMP's acknowledgment that its updated Taser policies wouldn't have changed what happened to Robert Dziekanski is a sign the embattled national police force hasn't learned from the incident, says a critic of the controversial weapons.

When news broke that four officers involved in Dziekanski's death at Vancouver's airport last fall won't face criminal charges, the RCMP noted several policy changes meant to show it was taking concerns over Taser use seriously.

But the Mounties admit none of those changes - from restricting the circumstances in which Tasers can be used to improved training - would have made much difference when officers confronted a confused and disoriented Dziekanski on Oct. 14, 2007.

"That suggests the changes aren't sufficient," Alex Neve, head of Amnesty International Canada, said in an interview Monday. "On the information that has come out, Amnesty International's position and I think most Canadians' position still is that it is unacceptable that a Taser was used in these circumstances."

The B.C. Crown said Friday that the officers' actions, while they contributed to Dziekanski's death, were reasonable.

At a news conference shortly after, RCMP officials again defended their use of Tasers and noted several policy changes in the past year, including:

-Restricting Taser use to incidents involving threats to officer or public safety.

-Annual re-certification for officers carrying Tasers.

-Testing of the Mounties' Taser arsenal.

-More detailed use-of-force reporting.

But when asked whether any of those changes would have changed what happened to Dziekanski had they been in place 14 months ago, an RCMP use-of-force expert replied simply, "No."

Dziekanski was shocked with the Taser five times in the brief encounter with police.

Neve said there must be a better understanding of the effects of multiple shocks and in what circumstances the so-called conducted energy weapons should be used. He said "threats to officers" is too vague a term, and said instead that Tasers should only be used when the only other alternative is lethal force.

"Is it really such a low threshold that someone holding a stapler is considered to pose a significant threat to the safety of four RCMP officers?" he said, referring to the fact that Dziekanski picked up a stapler seconds before he was shocked.

"We need more than a blithe assertion."

No one from the RCMP was available to comment.

The Crown's decision drew swift condemnation from critics of Taser use, the Polish government and Dziekanski's mother, Zophia Cisowski. Cisowski said she was angry about the decision, particularly the suggestion that her son was an alcoholic, and she said she was considering a potential lawsuit against the RCMP.

The Polish embassy in Ottawa released a scathing statement saying Dziekanski's death was either the result of "mistakes made by people or with faulty procedures" - and called for further policy changes, particularly when it comes to multiple shocks.

The force has faced intense scrutiny in the year since Dziekanski died - both from the public and several formal investigations - and the Crown's decision is likely to do little to quiet the debate.

There has already been several reports into Taser use, including one by the head of the Commission for Complaints Against the RCMP, Paul Kennedy. Kennedy called for tighter controls on the electronic weapons, and said officers should get immediate medical attention for people they shock.

And the first part of a public inquiry in B.C. - looking at Taser use in general - wrapped up earlier this year, with a report by retired B.C. judge Thomas Braidwood due out soon.

Braidwood said he'll be making recommendations to the provincial government, not the RCMP, but he hopes the force will be listening. "If you can think of it, we've covered it, that's why it took us so long," Braidwood said in an interview. "Those recommendations will go to the RCMP and I'm sure they will consider them. And likewise, there's a contract between the provincial government and the RCMP, and perhaps it will have an impact on that, too."

The decision on charges means the second phase of the inquiry, which will examine Dziekanski's death, can go ahead with the Mounties' participation.

Last week's announcement also clears the way for a separate investigation by the RCMP's complaints commission. "And of course, we're not immune to everything that's out there, so we're seeing what's going on with Braidwood and the like," said Nelson Kalil of the complaints commission. "Now that (charges) aren't going to happen, we'll be pursuing ours as vigorously as possible."

Other investigations still to come include a coroner's inquest and a review by a member of the Ontario Provincial Police.

Tick ... (only) tock ... (ZERO) tick ... (days) tock ... (to) tick ... tock (go)

Our friends over at excited-delirium.com are watching the clock and keeping a close eye on the DECEMBER 15, 2008 deadline by which the RCMP are to make changes to their taser policies. We're waiting ...

Expendable in life and death

December 15, 2008
STEVEN SPENCER, Globe and Mail

Toronto -- If I had observed Robert Dziekanski acting abnormally in the Vancouver airport, and if I had blasted him five times with a taser, then leaned on his neck with my knee, after which he died, and if this had happened in front of witnesses, including one who had videotaped the event, does anyone in Canada believe that the Crown would have declined to prosecute me owing to "insufficient evidence" (Airport Death Not Caused By Tasers, B.C. Says - Dec. 13)?

Something evil is happening in this country, and it has a name: police impunity. What this decision means is that every unprofessional or rogue police officer in Canada will feel justified in doing what he pleases with a stun gun, knowing that he will never be held accountable.

I mourn for Mr. Dziekanski, who died a needless death, and I mourn for his mother, who lost her son for utterly no good reason, and I mourn for my country, which appears to be transforming itself incrementally into a police state.

RCMP must be zapped with rule change

December 15, 2008
Joey Thompson, The Province

Zap: 50,000 volts.

Zap: 50,000 volts.

Zap: 50,000 volts.

Zap: 50,000 volts.

Zap: 50,000 volts.

A pack of burly officers scorched bewildered arrival Robert Dziekanski five times before dogpiling the stricken man as he lay in the international lobby area of Vancouver International Airport after travelling 21 hours from Poland.

Not twice, which is the line RCMP brass have fed us for the past year.

Supt. Wayne Rideout, the investigating team's top dog, said Friday that, once Mounties realized their error, they couldn't tell the public differently for fear it might taint the investigation into the man's abrupt death within minutes of being jolted by the stun gun.

How solid is a top-level Integrated Homicide Investigation Team's work if it faces extinction by the mere correction of a single factual error, you ask?

And why couldn't Mounties do the math? Witnesses had no trouble.

Records of the fallout from Dziekanski's brutal death reveal eye-witnesses were certain they heard four or five Taser firings.

But RCMP Sgt. Pierre Lemaitre kept insisting: No. Just two.

We should have known not to rely on his accounting; he's the same guy who maintained the frightened, confused man was swarmed by three cops when it turns out he was really beset by four.

Ever notice that when cops err, the goof is always in their favour?

A reading of the nation's criminal law and of RCMP policy by B.C. criminal justice branch officials concluded the cops acted within reason; their conduct acceptable.

Sure, if war is where you're at.

Appropriate to you and me would have looked more like a measured, conciliatory greeting, an offer to fetch an interpreter, a jug of water, perhaps a blanket, coffee, cushion or jacket. Did he need a washroom? A cigarette? A telephone?

And if the Taser torching didn't cause the 40-year-old's heart to pack it in, what did? Interestingly enough, the branch's seven-page statement steps gingerly: Use of the Taser did not directly cause the cardiac arrest, it read, but three pathologists were unanimous that heart disease due to chronic alcohol abuse and/or an agitated state of delirium might have been contributing factors.

As were the following: "Stress of physical restraint worsened by deployment of the Taser [and] decreased ability to breathe [due to] being restrained in the prone position for part of the struggle."

Now, I read that as meaning the explosive actions of four armed police barging in and ganging up on a guy they had been warned was disoriented, befuddled and sweating profusely may have led, in part, to the guy's massive heart failure.

While their actions may fall within the acceptable standards of criminal law and police policy as it currently exists, it doesn't follow that their confrontational stance didn't contribute to Dziekanski's death.

Or that, faced with a similar set of circumstances, another distraught citizen won't meet the same fate.

Which tells me law or policy be darned; the force must be directed to rewrite its rules and reform its conduct regarding Taser-gun use and exertion of force in order to spare the lives of those Canadians who aren't a picture of health.

We'll be mourning the loss of a lot more citizens if they don't.

Police stoop low to deflect blame in Dziekanski case

December 15, 2008
Gary Mason, Globe and Mail

That the Crown wouldn't charge the RCMP officers involved in last year's airport death of Robert Dziekanski was inevitable.

That the Mounties would stoop so low in attempting to explain how and why Mr. Dziekanski met his demise, well, I don't think anyone quite imagined that.

He didn't die because he was tasered five times by three RCMP officers in October of 2007 in an arrivals area at Vancouver International Airport.

He died, we've been told, because he drank too much and had a fear of flying. And when you mix those two things with 50,000 volts of electricity, terrible things happen.

Related Articles

Airport death not caused by tasers, B.C. says
Take away the booze and the anxiety, and Mr. Dziekanski might still be alive.


And the Crown and the RCMP in British Columbia wonder why Canadians are so outraged by Friday's decision. Every day, more and more feel it isn't right for police to investigate themselves, as was the case here.

Just imagine if Joe Canadian were tasered in, oh, I don't know, let's say the Bangkok airport.

And Joe Canadian died.

Imagine that the Thai police took nine months to complete their investigation, an investigation that included a trip to Canada to look into Joe's past.

And in the end, they decided not to prosecute the police officers involved.

Their report says Joe died because he drank too much and suffered from a flying phobia, which combined to weaken his system and made him vulnerable when he was blasted with 50,000 volts of electricity.

Imagine how Canadians would react to a report like that.

People would be screaming cover-up.

They'd be demanding Prime Minister Stephen Harper level economic sanctions against Thailand. Canadians would be cancelling trips there.

Well, those were pretty much the circumstances here.

Look, whether Mr. Dziekanski drank a lot or not is irrelevant.

He died after he was tasered by police. If he hadn't been tasered, he wouldn't have died. The only question is: Did the tasering constitute an excessive use of force?

Because the guidelines around the use of a taser were so fuzzy at the time of the incident and so open to interpretation as to what constitutes a threat to a police officer, it was always going to be next to impossible to put together a case against the RCMP officers involved.

Whether most Canadians felt four burly Mounties should have been able to take down one Polish immigrant with a stapler in his hand without having to pump taser hooks into him is irrelevant.

On the use-of-force spectrum that Mounties are guided by, or were at the time, Mr. Dziekanski fit the profile of someone who was a candidate to be tasered. He was agitated. He had been destroying equipment at the airport. He had what could be termed to be a weapon.

Mounties have tasered people for less.

Now, you could argue - others have and more will still - that there need to be stricter guidelines covering the weapon's use.

But at the time, the RCMP officers at Vancouver International weren't doing anything their colleagues hadn't done hundreds of times under similar circumstances.

The RCMP didn't need to go dredging up dirt on Mr. Dziekanski's past to justify its actions.

How horrible and petty-minded that makes our police look. How desperate, too. And the RCMP wonder why their reputation becomes more tattered and stained with each passing day.

The death of Mr. Dziekanski will always be a black mark on the Mounties' reputation in B.C.

But the lengths to which the force went to try to escape blame in the tragedy should be enough to convince everyone that the RCMP should no longer be investigating itself.

The Dziekanski case should be the last deplorable example of why a change needs to take place now.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

EDITORIAL: No surprises in taser probe

December 14, 2008
Editorial, The Province

Stan Lowe, Crown spokesman for British Columbia's Criminal Justice Branch, stood at a podium Friday and announced there will be no charges in the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski. It was, shall we say, a Lowe point.

Dziekanski, as everyone in the world with Internet access now knows, was repeatedly Tasered by RCMP officers at Vancouver International Airport last year.

He died.

Leading the investigation on whether or not the RCMP officers used the Tasers inappropriately or illegally was a crack team of, um, er, RCMP officers.

Hands up, everyone who didn't see "no charges" coming out of that investigation.

OK, everyone on planet Earth, you can put your hands down now.

Seriously though, the RCMP has to stop investigating the RCMP. It's getting ridiculous.

Here is some of the information that surfaced when the Crown went public with its decision to not press charges against the officers involved in the deadly takedown of the victim:

Number of times Tasered

Dziekanski was Tasered five times during the incident. The public was originally told the victim was only Tasered twice. RCMP Supt. Wayne Rideout claims misinformation arose out of a rush to provide media information immediately after the incident.

Well, Wayne, the next time you provide such incredibly wrong information we recommend you correct it as soon as possible. This newspaper has a legal obligation to correct its mistakes within a certain time limit. Why should the RCMP be allowed to have such egregiously wrong information floating about the metaverse for more than a year? No doubt, if you originally claimed to have Tasered the poor man five times, only to discover the real number was two, RCMP spokespeople would have fallen over themselves getting to the podium to correct the record.

We will give the final word on this point to the victim's mother, Zofia Cisowski, who, upon hearing her son was Tasered three more times than she was told, reportedly said: "How can you tell me a Taser was deployed five times on my son and it isn't excessive?"

Digging up dirt

An RCMP team of investigators actually went to Poland to get the goods on the victim. This investigation allegedly revealed Dziekanski was in a highly agitated state when he left Poland to be with his mother in Canada. Moreover, the 40-year-old immigrant had a drinking problem.

We fail to see how any of this -- true or false -- has any bearing on whether or not excessive force was used. Dziekanski's life could have been hanging like an anvil on the end of a thread just prior to the encounter with the RCMP. The question is: Did the RCMP conduct themselves in a manner that can be ruled "not excessive."

The Crown says yes; the video says no.

We'll give the final word on this point to some fitting sarcasm from the Polish embassy in Ottawa: ". . . it appears the main reason for Mr. Dziekanski's death was his fear of flying, tiredness and lack of ability to communicate in English . . ."

And finally. . .

The message here is worrying for Canadians who do not behave like good robots when in the vicinity of an RCMP officer.

Gone are the days when you could argue a point or disagree openly with the authoritarian rule of our national police force. Should you be fortunate enough to encounter a benevolent officer capable of empathy, you may actually be reasoned with.

But be warned: step out of line, show a little frustration, even, heaven forbid, yell and throw something like a stapler aimlessly into the air, you risk immediate Tasering and a beat down.

Fortunately, this isn't over. A number of other investigations and inquiries are planned. The finding can't get any worse.

EDITORIAL: Questions linger in stun gun death

December 14, 2008
Editorial, The Toronto Star

Canadians were appalled to see Polish traveller Robert Dziekanski's final tragic minutes play out on video last year. Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers used a stun gun to subdue the confused and out-of-control man at Vancouver airport. They jolted him five times, and knelt on him as he still struggled. Minutes later he died of heart failure.

The shocking video focused attention on police use of stun guns, and fuelled concern that they resort to the weapons too quickly, too often. That concern won't be eased by the decision Friday by British Columbia's Crown not to charge the four officers in the Oct. 14, 2007, death. Crown counsel Stan Lowe announced, "There is not a substantial likelihood of conviction" because they "were lawfully engaged in their duties" and acted in a "reasonable and necessary" manner.

Be that as it may, Dziekanski deserves better than a legal shrug.

This puts a heavy burden on Commissioner Thomas Braidwood, and his two-part probe of the affair. Last fall he looked into the use of stun guns generally, and a report is expected soon. Next month he will launch an inquiry into the circumstances in which Dziekanski died.

Braidwood has his work cut out for him. While the Mounties appear to have acted lawfully, troubling questions remain. Did they use a Taser stun gun too quickly, moments after encountering a man who spoke no English? Could he have been "talked down" by a translator? Why did the gun initially malfunction, its probes failing to stick? Dziekanski was jolted twice on the ground, struggling with police. Was that necessary, with four officers there? Are there procedural lessons to be learned?

More broadly, are stun guns as safe as advertised? Are police forces in general sufficiently trained and alert to risks? Is weapon testing and recalibration adequate? Are use-of-force protocols strict enough?

In his twin probes, Braidwood has an opportunity to shed light not only on Dziekanski's death but also on the science involving these weapons and on the training and rules that guide their use.

More than a few Canadians have died after being jolted with a Taser. In Dziekanski's case, pathologists believe delirium, the stress of being restrained, shortness of breath and alcohol withdrawal all played a role in the cardiac arrest.

That doesn't make this case less troubling. The public is worried about stun guns. We need to know more.

And injustice for all: Cops face no charges in death of Robert Dziekanski

December 14, 2008
By Mike Cowie, Georgia Strait

You who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Bury the rag deep in your face
For now's the time for your tears

Bob Dylan, "The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll"

The cops who brutally attacked newly-arrived immigrant Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport on October 14, 2007, tragically causing his death, will face absolutely no criminal charges. That's right, none.

A year ago, when I wrote my sad and angry piece, "Kill, Duck and Cover: The RCMP Rant", I was outraged and sickened but at least I knew that, with the video evidence the whole world had just seen, there would eventually be some sort of justice for Dziekanski and his heartbroken mother, Sofia Cisowski. Sadly, I was wrong. There will be no justice. None whatsoever.

As in just about every other case of police brutality here in Canada, the system has done almost everything possible to protect the cops from prosecution. As is generally the case with police forces around the world, the RCMP almost always tries to protect its own, even if that means keeping its most violent members out on the streets, "protecting" the public.

It's been asked by so many people so many times before, but it really needs to be asked once more here: What the fuck is up with the RCMP investigating itself anyway?! Because that's what happened, once again, in this case. Is it some sort of sick joke? Because I don't get the punch line. And, in case you couldn't guess, they almost never find anything criminal in any of their own actions. Does anyone really think they want to?

A Job Well Done
As for the prosecutors, it's hard not to see them as completely aligned with the cops who they work with day in and day out, rather than with the public who they are supposed to serve. To any regular follower of the news, it would appear that what matters to your typical prosecutor is protecting cops from justice, not protecting the public from brutality, or even death.

"Insufficient evidence to bring charges", they say, even if, in this case, the whole assault is right there on video for all to see.

But it's not just that there's insufficient evidence to press charges. No, it would seem that, in the minds of the prosecutors, this Robert Dziekanski case simply involved standard police procedure. Nothing criminal here at all. And that's not just my opinion, that's what was said Friday by the spokesman for the prosecutor's office.

Not only was there nothing wrong with the actions of these four cops, but, it seems, they did an outstanding job in the way they handled the situation. Seriously!

According to Stan Lowe, spokesman for the B.C. Criminal Justice Branch, "the officers in question were lawfully engaged in their duties when they encountered Mr. Dziekanski and the force they used to subdue and restrain him was reasonable and necessary in all the circumstances”.

The scariest thing is that Lowe went on to say that the officers followed RCMP policy on the use of force. That is to say, the way they violently took the unarmed, non-resisting Dziekanski down is exactly the way they should act in such situations. What is this, fucking North Korea?!

I'd love to see how Mr. Lowe would react if that had been one of his loved ones being taken out in such a "reasonable and necessary" manner.

And just so we all got this right, going in and talking calmly to the man and then handcuffing him and leading him away peacefully would not have been the right course of action. Violently taking him down, now that was the right thing to do.

Apology? Hell no, give these guys medals! He was holding a stapler, after all, and that's pretty scary for four big, muscular, fully-trained-in-hand-to-hand-combat professionals. Hey man, they could have been stapled!

Good Cops/Bad Cops
Obviously, society needs the police and clearly they do put their lives on the line at times. But that in no way excuses brutality in any form. They're simply civil servants paid to do a job for the public. But that's certainly not how some of them act.

Similarly, we need teachers, but I don't hear anyone saying we've got to tolerate any teachers who molest students.

And let's not forget that there are other people out there who risk their lives in the course of their work, most notably firefighters and search and rescue personnel. But we wouldn't tolerate any brutality on their part. So why is it tolerated when the police engage in it?

What we need in this country are good, decent cops who would be sickened by the type of brutal force that was used against Dziekanski. And I believe there are many of them out there who were. We do know that many retired cops have spoken out about their dismay and even disgust at how quickly many police resort to violence and, particularly, the use of the taser these days.

The apologists for police brutality will say that it's a tough job and that they're risking their lives, so all is excused. To which I say, what a load of bullshit! Again, firefighters have much more dangerous jobs and risk their lives constantly, but they don't go around killing people who refuse to obey an order now do they?

Those who say that these guys were "just doing their jobs" must seriously think the job of a cop is to use brutal violence against unarmed civilians. But who would think such a thing?

If unprovoked, unnecessary brutality leading to death was just part of the job of the police then their jobs would involve inherently criminal behaviour. And society would need protecting from them. But, of course, their real job involves no such license to rough up such utterly harmless people as Robert Dziekanski.

As a number of retired police officers have said in interviews, these four reckless cops were completely out of control. What was needed here was a calm response to a man in distress. Instead, they barged in and immediately–within 30 seconds–violently tasered him five times.

Excessive Use of Force
If tasering a passive, 40-year-old, unarmed man five times and then jumping on him so he can no longer breathe isn't excessive use of force, what is?

Yeah, ok, if someone's shooting at you, shoot back. But all these other cases–cases of people being shot dead when either armed with just a knife or, in many other cases, tasered or shot to death when completely unarmed–are just ridiculous.

Not As Accepting of Brutality
Last week, a cop killed a teenager in Greece (the first killing of a teenager by police there in over 20 years) and the whole nation erupted into a week-long fit of rage, riots, and repulsion. And the cop was immediately charged with voluntary homicide.

Contrast that with Canada, where three teenagers were shot dead by the police in a one-month period across the country this past summer–and everyone shrugged.

The thing that really gets me is that they don't shoot for the legs, they actually shoot to kill–15-year-olds!

Can you imagine shooting to kill a 15-year-old because he wouldn't drop a knife? Not because he lunged at you, just because he refused repeated orders to drop the knife. That's what happened to a kid in Winnipeg this past summer. There's got to be a more professional–and less lethal–way of dealing with such situations. Perhaps such as trying to talk the person down.

Not Such A Funny Joke
The more cases one reads, the more apparent it becomes that the whole "justice" system is a joke in this country.

Even in the rarest of cases where one cop testifies in court that a shooting by a colleague was unprovoked, such as the horrific case in Vanderhoof, B.C., the judge still let's the killer go free...and back to work.

The only time cops seem to get charged and convicted is when they get caught stealing and/or dealing drugs. That's right, drugs are bad, brutalizing and even killing members of the public is okay.

Hit-and-run drunk driving causing death (with your own kids in the car!), as one of the four cops who killed Dziekanski is now accused of, is pretty unacceptable too. Though I can almost guarantee he'll get a light sentence because he's a cop. Shouldn't it be the other way around? Throw the book at him because he's a cop and should know better than anyone else. Either way, what a guy–killing two innocent people in just one short year.

Embarrassing... To Say The Least
Really now, think about it: Shouldn't the RCMP be extremely embarrassed by the fact that four of their highly-trained officers couldn't handle a 40-year-old man, armed with nothing more than a stapler, in any other way than by tasering him five times and then jumping on him, causing his death?

Far from embarrassment, however, the RCMP seem to have little regret. In fact, it's totally mind-boggling to read RCMP statements about the case and see how incredibly arrogant they are in their belief that they are faultless and that their officers performed to absolute perfection. As always, it seems that it was the victim's own fault (and, man, you can't get much more pathetic than actually trying to blame Dziekanski for his own death - but that's exactly what they, along with the prosecutors, seem to be doing).

A Clear Message
The prosecutors say that the tasers contributed to, but didn't cause Dziekanski's death. But that's hardly the point here. It's not whether the tasers killed him or not. What's certain is that the actions of the cops did. If they hadn't handled the situation in such a violent way, today Dziekanski would still be alive and enjoying his new life in Canada.

Finally, just let me say what a great message I think this sends to all the other cops out there. If you approach an unarmed man with his hands raised who isn't resisting arrest in any way, you can brutally take him down. And if he dies in the process, so be it, you'll face no repercussions whatsoever.

One thing is absolutely clear, though, and that's that the RCMP and the entire "justice" system is set up to protect the police and not the public. Anyone who follows the news on a regular basis and could still argue with that statement is either willingly ignorant or staggeringly blind.

One other thing that no one can argue with is that three of those four cops who used "reasonable and necessary" force against Dziekanski are out there "protecting" us right at this very moment. Almost makes you want to move to Greece.

Mike Cowie is a writer currently embarked on a book about his three-year trip across Asia with his wife, Sonoko. Read more of Mike’s views on his Web site.


I highly recommend, if you have not already done so, that you stop by excited-delirium and read the latest. Brilliant!

Engineers counter company's claim CBC taser tests flawed

December 12, 2008
By Sandra Bartlett and Frederic Zalac, CBC News

Scientists who conducted tests for CBC News/Radio-Canada finding that some stun guns produced higher than advertised voltages are disputing suggestions by Taser International that their data was "scientifically flawed."

Roger Barr, among the engineers who reviewed the testing protocol, dismissed Taser International's concerns and said the CBC-commissioned tests were based on solid practices.

"The CBC tests measured the voltages and currents that came out of Tasers when they were fired. It measured in a systematic and professional way," said Barr, a biomedical engineering professor at Duke University in Raleigh, N.C.

The procedure, conducted by U.S.-based lab National Technical Systems, found that 10 per cent of the stun guns produced more electrical current than the weapons' specifications.

"This is not simply a matter of opinion," said Barr. "This is an issue of objective evidence, and perhaps not all of the evidence is in, but it is not a case where one can simply disregard some of the findings because someone else disagrees with them."

Taser International said CBC made scientific errors by failing to spark-test the weapons before firing them, which the company recommends police officers do on a regular basis.

Spark test a red herring: engineer

University of Montreal biomedical engineer Pierre Savard, who designed the testing system, says the spark-test issue is a red herring, since some Tasers delivered a higher electrical current after the first firing, the equivalent of a spark test.

"A spark test would last probably less than one second. And for two Tasers that showed abnormal currents, we were able to do repeated measurements after one or two seconds, and the current was still abnormally high after those initial tests."

Savard points out that the written instructions from Max Nerheim, Taser International's vice-president of research and development, made no mention of a spark test.

Taser International also criticized the CBC tests over the way the tests replicated electricity moving through a human body, which was measured in ohms. Prior to the tests, the company advised using a resistance of 250 ohms, but later said it should have been 600 ohms.

Savard says these changes in the testing protocol highlight a significant problem for anyone wanting to do independent testing of the Tasers.

"I think the real problem is that there's no international standard in how to test these devices and so the company is changing the protocol from one value of the resistance to the other," said Savard.

Savard said there's a need for more independent studies of the devices, but it would require a uniform protocol.

The CBC commissioned the tests using Tasers from seven unidentified police departments in the U.S., who agreed to provide the guns on the basis their identities would remain unknown.

Of 41 older-model X26 Tasers tested, four delivered significantly more current than Taser International advertised was possible. In some cases, the current was up to 50 per cent stronger than specified.

The X26 Tasers were manufactured before 2005 and are one of the most commonly used models.

Agencies review use of older Tasers

The findings prompted Savard to recommend police stop using any older versions of stun guns until they are tested.

Since then, several police agencies have begun checking their inventories for older devices. B.C, Alberta, Nova Scotia, Quebec and the RCMP have ordered police to suspend the use of Tasers bought before 2005 and in some cases before 2006.

On Thursday, Alberta Solicitor General Fred Lindsay announced a plan to gather up about 400 Tasers from police agencies around the province, purchased before Jan. 1, 2006, and have them tested.

"The plan is to test all of the approximately 400 Tasers in question to determine if they are working within the manufacturer's specifications," said Lindsay. "We'll await the results of those tests before deciding on next steps."

"In the interest of public and police officer safety, my department is currently in discussions with the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology to implement a testing protocol for all X26 model Tasers purchased by Alberta police services before Jan. 1, 2006," said Lindsay.

Some provinces appear to be leaving the decision to pull the older Tasers to individual police departments.

Winnipeg police plan to remove the older Tasers from service and have them tested. While they couldn't say how many of the about 200 Tasers in their stockpile are being pulled from use, police said they are focusing their efforts on locating devices manufactured prior to 2005.

"These devices are being pulled from service," Const. Jason Michalyshen said.

Taser International has always insisted there is never a need to test a Taser's electrical output after it leaves the factory. In news releases over the past few days, however, the company is now offering to help police get their Tasers tested.

"Taser International welcomes proper testing of its devices and has provided its factory test protocols to test laboratories in Canada."

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The taser myth: how does a 'non-lethal weapon' kill 400 people?

December 13, 2008
By Liliana Segura, AlterNet

On Sept. 24, in Brooklyn, N.Y., a 35-year-old man named Iman Morales fell to his death after a 22-minute standoff with New York Police. Morales, who was described as "emotionally disturbed," had climbed onto the fire escape of a building in Bedford-Stuyvesant, naked and waving a metal pole. Unable to talk him down, one officer, under order from his lieutenant, shot Morales with a Taser gun, at which point he fell to the sidewalk, head-first.

He was taken to the hospital, where he was declared dead.

One week later, the officer who gave the order, Lt. Michael W. Pigott, drove to Brooklyn's Floyd Bennett Field, a former air base used by the NYPD, took a 9mm Glock from a locker room, and shot himself in the head.

It's hard to know which are more ubiquitous at this point: stories of accidental death by Tasers, or stories of police brutality involving bullets. Just this week, in New York, a Bronx man was shot and killed after he allegedly waved a baseball bat at police officers who entered his home. In theory, these sorts of confrontations are the reason such "non-lethal" weapons as Tasers exist. But news reports tell a different tale. In the United States and Canada, more than 400 people have died after being Tasered since 2001.

Apart from his suicide, what sets Pigott apart from most police officers who kill people using Tasers is that he must have realized that the order to Taser Morales could deal a fatal blow. Why he decided to do it anyway will remain unanswered. And it's impossible to know whether remorse over Morales' death was the driving factor behind his decision to take his life, or whether it was the stripping of his badge after over 20 years on the force -- or something else.

Regardless, for people who carry a Taser as an alternative to a gun, the realization that they are actually deadly weapons must deal a hard blow.

Despite the rather old news that Tasers can kill, the news media continue to be littered with reports of trigger-happy Taserers, many of whom should be relieved that their victims lived. This week in Oklahoma, police Tasered a man who had gone into diabetic shock while driving, which caused him to spin out of control on the road. (The officers felt "extremely bad" upon realizing that he was not drunk or high but rather in need of medical attention.) In another report, last month, undercover cops in North Carolina Tasered a man acting as a pallbearer at his father's funeral. (The local sheriff apologized for the deputies' behavior. "Family, friends, relatives. … That was a bad decision.")

Appalling social behavior aside, it doesn't seem hard to unearth the psychology behind excessive Taser use. It must be easy to be quick on the draw when toting a weapon that is like a pretend firearm. Like guns, Tasers are about much more than self-defense. For civilians (and cops), the sense of power that comes from carrying a weapon is a central part of the appeal. Taser International, Inc. has capitalized on this -- a trio of new C2 Taser models, which have been aggressively marketed toward women, come in leopard print and two styles of camouflage. ("Who says safety can't be stylish?" reads the marketing tag on the Taser Web site.) Tasers fulfill a powerful, violent fantasy: the ability to shoot someone without deadly consequences.

Taser's marketing coup has been to convince consumers that there is such a thing as a gun that won't kill. The number of deaths caused by Tasers cuts through this myth.

Recently, a new study discovered that the most common model of Taser used by police officers are far more hazardous than the company claims, capable of firing dangerous levels of electricity that can raise the risk of heart attack by as much as 50 percent. Shortly after the release of the findings, Canadian police departments pulled Tasers from their forces. ("Police departments in the United States, however, appear to have taken no similar action," reported the Arizona Republic.)

Pierre Savard, a biomedical engineer at the University of Montreal, led the study, which Taser International claims is composed of "false allegations based on scientifically flawed data". Last year, he also examined the high-profile death of Robert Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant who died after being Tasered by police at Vancouver International Airport.

"At first, I thought (Taser) was a great product," Savard told the Arizona Republic. "My point of view is that police officers already carry firearms, which are definitely more dangerous. So the Taser is much less dangerous to start with. But it should be used in a cautious manner.

"As a scientist … the risk is not zero."

Letter to the Editor: Kaye should test tasers

December 13, 2008
Owen Sound Sun Times


Is Tom Kaye for real? According to the news I've heard, including this very story (in the Sun Times), several people's deaths have indeed been linked to the use of Tasers.

So either he's clueless or the Canadian public is being horribly misinformed by the news media.

And then he says that emotion and humanity have no place in the setting of public policy -- well, if there's no humanity in public policy I'd say we're in a really bad way.

I also find it shocking that he has no plans to test the four Tasers Owen Sound police have, especially considering that two of them are the questionable models that may be dangerous. How much effort would this take?

I guess he'd call me hysterical, but as a mother of two young men (fortunately law-abiding) I would rather my sons be shot in the leg with a real gun than Tasered in an attempt to subdue them.

This story was a real headshaker. I had to reread it a couple of times to make sure he said what I thought he said.

Pretty scary stuff.

Stephanie Mordeen

Letter to the Editor: Police Commission needs to step in on taser issue and test stun guns

December 13, 2008
Owen Sound Sun Times


There is an old saying : "None are so blind as those who WILL not see." One need only look as far as Owen Sound Police Chief Tom Kaye for a prime example. No sooner had an unbiased CBC study of Tasers come out that indicated older models often fire overcharged voltage, than Kaye was out defending Tasers once again, including Owen Sound's older models which were the subject of the study. He stubbornly refuses to test this city's Tasers. So what is wrong with this man? It's one thing to adhere to one's belief, but to do it blindly is sheer folly.

All B. C. law enforcement agencies and its RCMP, the N. B. police forces, and many other municipalities think testing is a good idea. One can only wonder if Kaye is totally unmonitored by the Police Commission in this city -- where are they on this issue?

For Kaye to suggest that there has not even been a "casual" relationship between the deaths of 25 Canadians after Tasering is blind pig-headed nonsense, to put it bluntly.

To accuse myself and others of relying on emotion and compassion is self-delusional on his part, not that I mind being tarred with the brush of compassion. By the way, tell that to the widows and children of those who died after being Tasered, be it from excited delirium or not.

The fact of the matter is, without the Taser, and with common sense and some psychology, these deceased would still be alive today, and probably getting help for their problems, or be incarcerated if that is applicable.

It is well time that Chief Kaye opens his eyes. We are not some deep southern backwater and we do not appreciate being treated as such. I urge the Owen Sound Police Commission to sit down and talk to Chief Kaye about close-mindedness and willngness to listen to the opinions and advice of others -- be they cops or JUST civilians. Who knows, he might just see the light.

Tim Thompson

EDITORIAL: tasers and public safety

December 13, 2008
Kingston Whig-Standard

Police departments across Canada, including the RCMP, are pulling older Tasers from service after concerns were raised about their safety in a CBC investigative report. The study found that four out of 44 of the X26 model stun guns fired charges significantly higher than what the company's specifications indicate. The medical analysis accompanying the findings suggests that these higher charges could increase the chance of inducing cardiac arrest by up to 50%.

Following the CBC report, a spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services said they had instructed all police services in the province "to test their X26 models to ensure they're functioning correctly."

But here in Kingston, Police Chief Stephen Tanner has decided not to follow the ministry directive, even though all 34 of the force's Tasers are X26s. Tanner said nothing in the ministry instructions specifically calls for the weapons to be "electrically tested." He also told the Whig-Standard that he doesn't want to leave his officers without access to the Tasers.

"The risk would be much greater in not having those weapons on the street, either for the officers not to have them to protect themselves or to have that alternative level of force available to them," Tanner said.

Tasers are highly controversial. Since 2001, more than 400 people in Canada and the U. S. have died after being shocked by the weapons, which are considered a less deadly alternative to handguns. Kingston police used Tasers five times this year, without any reported problems.

Arizona-based Taser International is denying any irregularities with the X26 and disputes the CBC findings. It says the study was flawed because the weapons under scrutiny hadn't been test-fired first, as they recommend.

But National Technical Systems, the Californiabased engineering firm that conducted the tests for the CBC, confirmed that one of the X26 Tasers did emit a higher-than-expected charge on a second firing.

Tanner said his officers always pre-test. But that provides no assurance that a safe level of current is being discharged.

Tanner's decision is hardly reassuring for Kingstonians.

The main issue, after all, is not officer safety but public safety.

It's as though someone had discovered that the 9-mm handguns used by Kingston police were leaving wounds indicative of much larger-calibre pistols -yet retesting or reassessment isn't necessary.

No one wants Kingston police officers to be denied the proper equipment to do their job. However, if they have 34 Tasers that were used only five times all year, wouldn't it be possible to take a certain number out of use to be tested on a rotating basis?

This is an urgent matter of public safety. If Tanner doubts the potential health risks, he should call Pierre Savard, the University of Montreal biomedical engineer who has written an analysis on the health risks posed by Tasers. Savard told the Arizona Republic newspaper this week that the weapons can accelerate some people's heart rates to dangerous levels. "As a scientist," he concluded, "the risk is not zero."

And that, we hasten to add, is his assessment of Tasers that fire at properly calibrated levels.

Chief Tanner must change his position and begin testing of his force's stun guns.