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Friday, January 18, 2008

Taser chief faces criticism amidst push to equip police with devices

January 18, 2008
Natalie Alcoba, National Post

TORONTO - The chairman of Taser International faced a barrage of criticism last night at a public meeting in Toronto amidst a push by the police chief to equip all front line officers with the device.

“The problem that you got with your product, sir, is not the science,” said one man. “It’s the fact that it goes to human beings with human frailties who will make the mistake of over-using it and they’ll kill someone.”

Chairman of the board and co-founder Thomas Smith conceded that Tasers are not risk-free and have been listed as a “contributing factor” in about 20 to 30 in-custody deaths.

A 2005 review by the Canadian Police Research Centre on the safety of Tasers concluded that “definitive evidence does not exist” that there is a causal relationship between the use of a Taser and death, although Amnesty International has linked at least 17 deaths in Canada to its use.

“Any confrontation between people has inherrent risk,” Mr. Smith told the crowd. “This is in our minds the safest way to end that confrontation, but it’s not the magic bullet. There is nothing out there that is 100% ... this is just one more tool in the tool box.”

The meeting was organized by the Toronto Police Services Board to answer questions about Taser, formally known as a conductive energy device that fires two darts that shock and immobilize someone, as the police board contemplates expanding its use in Toronto. Chair Alok Mukhurjee pointed to the “intense public interest” around the safety of the device that followed after a Polish immigrant died last year after being Tasered in Vancouver International Airport.

Following recommendations from two coroner’s juries, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair plans to equip all front line officers with Tasers as a way to “save lives.” The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police last year passed a resolution asking for the same thing.

The provincial Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services “has adopted a very cautious approach to expanding the use of Tasers” and will wait on pending studies before making its decision, a spokesman said yesterday. Currently, only supervisors, perimeter and tactical officers can carry the device in Ontario.

After the presentation, Chief Blair maintained that Tasers “can save lives” when in the hands of a properly trained officers. “I want those accessible to my front line officers for those circumstances where that can reduce injury to my people, and also reduce injury to the public.”

He said Toronto officers are guided by a “strict policy” that tell officers “precisely when it’s appropriate to use [a Taser].”

Currently, the force equips about 500 supervisors and tactical officers with the device. Chief Blair said those officers are not always available in the “critical situations” where a Taser could, he said, change the outcome of a confrontation. He noted that there are many more steps before the devices land in officers’ hands, since laws must change and the city and province must commit to paying the $8.6-million it will cost to equip and train all officers with the Taser.

During his presentation, Mr. Smith likened the jolt of electricity to hitting your funny bone, times 20. “It’s certainly not a pleasent experience, but your’e very aware of what’s going on,” he told the crowd that appeared captivated at times, skeptical at others.

Patti Gillman, whose brother Robert Bagnell who died in Vancouver in 2004 after being Tasered twice, said she spoke for the 350 people in North America who have died after being shocked with the device. (I said 315 people, not 350!)

Andy Buxton, chair of the local branch of Amnesty International, voiced concern over the potential for abuse. He said that if officers had to be equipped with Tasers, it should be instead of, not in addition to, guns.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Keep up the good work on this issue. These weapons do a lot of harm and should be gotten rid of. I hope a lot more people visit this blog and take action.