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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

TPAC sponsoring a forum on tasers - February 6

From the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition
Bulletin No. 39, January 21, 2008

Forum on Tasers, February 6

Toronto Police Accountability Coalition is sponsoring a public meeting:

"The Shock of the Taser," A discussion of the police use of shock and stun guns Wednesday February 6, 2008 7.00 pm Town Hall, Innis College St. George and Sussex Streets, one block south of Bloor


* David Reville, advocate and builder of the psychiatric survivor movement.
* Naomi Klein, author of `The Shock Doctrine, The Rise of Disaster Capitalism'
* Andy Buxton, chair, Amnesty International Toronto organization

Moderator: Anna Willats, Toronto Police Accountability Coalition.

Please tell your colleagues and friends about this public meeting.

Taser International Comes to Toronto

The stakes for Taser International are huge. If the company can get the Toronto police force to agree to spend $8.6 million to equip every member of the force with a taser, it will be able to go around to every other police force in Canada and say: the largest force in the country thinks every officer should have a taser - why not your force too? Chief Bill Blair is on side, and has recommended the purchase, but the Toronto Police Services Board seems to have some reluctance to proceed.

So it was a real coup for Thomas Smith, chair of Taser International, to be invited by the Board to make a presentation at police headquarters on January 17 about how great his product is. What more could someone ask for when they are looking at a $8.6 million sale?

TPAC objected, writing Board members that, "Giving a possible supplier such a privileged vantage point . is improper. It is the continuation of the cosy relationship that Taser International seems to have with others who have spoken in favour of the use of its product, such as deputy coroner James Cairns (who has appeared at the Board supporting the purchase of Tasers.) As reported by the Globe and Mail on November 30, 2007, Taser International paid for Dr. Cairns' expenses to speak in favour of Tasers at one conference." TPAC suggested that Taser should rent its own space to make its pitch. No Board member responded to our objection.

Smith made his pitch with a slide show for about 45 minutes, at which point there were questions (or rather hostile speeches) from the audience. Two points stand out from his presentation. First, he continually talked about how the taser could stop someone from attacking an officer. But an incident where an officer is under attack from someone is very rare. Toronto data shows that about 98 per cent of all tasers are discharged in regard to someone who is in a state of mental crisis, only rarely being a threat to a police officer (see TPAC Bulletin No. 35, May 2007.) So the device is best used, according to Smith, for something that very rarely occurs.

Second, Smith made the point that the two day training done by Taser deals only with how to work the gun, not with situations in which it should be deployed. Thus training does not include such matters as assessing the nature of the problem, the different kinds of approaches that might be taken (such as talking to the person), or so forth: Smith said that was a matter for the local force to decide on. But Toronto's chief has not been willing to release the policy or protocol about taser use, so we don't know when it might be used. As one speaker noted, if police are trained properly, then they won't use the taser.

Questioners at the meeting raised several interesting points. While most police officials suggest that tasers are used instead of guns, it seems they are most often used instead of a lesser kind of intervention (such as talking) as was tragically demonstrated in the Vancouver airport incident last October. So it seems entirely likely that equipping all officers with tasers will result in an increase in the incidents of use of force by police. As well, more than 80 per cent of the people who are tasered are unarmed.

Alok Mukherjee, chair of the Police Services Board made it clear that the reporting recommending the purchase of tasers for all Toronto officers will be coming before a Board meeting in the near future.


annemarie said...

thanks for the info. will see if i can attend this mtg. and will spread your link to this blog around the net, where i feel it's appropriate.

take care, make care, annemarie

Dan Walter said...

I need help circulating this petition:http://www.thepetitionsite.com/2/johns-hopkins-hospital-stop-supporting-taser-use

Thanks very much.