February 6, 2008
Sherri Zickefoose, Calgary Herald
Equipping Calgary police cars with bean bag firing weapons and training police to use them may prevent deaths similar to the shooting of a knife-wielding man by police. Police should also reassess criteria for deploying the TAC team to weapons calls, a fatality inquiry judge recommends about the Jan. 21, 2005 police shooting of Harjinder Singh Cheema.
Although Calgary police have since issued Tasers to patrol units, they haven't followed other agencies' move to equip front-line officers with beanbag rounds.
"Had the Calgary Police Service TAC team been called to the scene earlier, it is possible that the use of a non-lethal weapon such as the beanbag round may have disabled Mr. Cheema without resulting in his death," Judge Sandra Hamilton wrote in her decision from a fatality inquiry probing the shooting of a knife-wielding man by police.
"The bean bag round, properly deployed, would appear to be preferable to the use of the tasers in situations involving armed assailants."
Hamilton also deemed Cheema's death homicidal, adding the police shooting was appropriate, and that there is no culpability.
Not one witness faulted the police decision to shoot Cheema as he brandished a knife outside his home on Jan. 21, 2005, but some testimony during the six-day inquiry last March touched on whether authorities could have handled the case differently.
Cheema, 30, stabbed himself several times in the abdomen after he attacked his wife, Kuldeep Sandhu, who had filed for divorce a week earlier. Bloody, barefoot and intoxicated after staying up all night drinking, Cheema emerged from his house on Queensland Circle S.E. two hours after the assault and advanced on officers outside, ignoring their repeated commands to drop the kitchen knife he was holding.
Sgt. Rick Parent, an instructor at the Justice Institute of British Columbia, testified that Cheema intended to commit "suicide by cop."
The inquiry heard evidence that deploying the tactical team sooner may have given police time to devise a plan and get in place before it was necessary for Const. Ian Vernon, a police dog handler, to shoot.
Vernon and a group of patrol officers who responded to the call surrounded the Cheema house after Sandhu, her mother and two-year-old daughter fled to a neighbour's home for help. Officers testified that almost two hours elapsed while commanders tried to confirm whether Cheema was still inside, and weighed whether to enter the house. After an inspector called for the tactical team, it took about 15 minutes for six members to drive from the unit's northeast base to a command post near the scene.
At the time, only the TAC team carried less-than-lethal weapons such as Taser stun guns and so-called "beanbag" rounds that are fired from a standard shotgun but don't penetrate the skin. The TAC team had just finished a briefing and hadn't taken over when Cheema forced the patrol officers surrounding his home to act instead.
The sudden escalation without the TAC team in place left officers no option but deadly force, said Parent. Two things may have changed the outcome, Parent said: having TAC team members closer by, or equipping front-line officers with a wider array of less-than-lethal weapons.
Parent suggested having tactical members circulating in each city quadrant, rather than massed at a central base. A criminal probe cleared Vernon of any wrongdoing, and an internal investigation found police at the scene followed policies and procedures.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Thursday, February 07, 2008
February 6, 2008