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Friday, March 07, 2008

Halifax officer calls for custody-death database

March 7, 2008
DAVENE JEFFREY, Halifax Chronicle Herald

Canada needs a national database to track deaths that occur in custody, says a senior Halifax Regional Police officer. "I believe that this is something that this country should be tracking," said Deputy Chief Tony Burbridge.

Deputy Chief Burbridge is part of a national committee reviewing the safety of stun guns like Tasers. The committee, which is part of the Canadian Police Research Centre, studied Taser use in 2005 and deemed them safe. But the committee was asked to take a second look at the safety of stuns guns after several people died following the use of the weapons. Two people have died in Nova Scotia after being shocked with stun guns.

The deputy chief said officials are missing a vital tool for assessing the safety of any weapon or method of restraint. "The more information we have when we start using different types of tools, equipment or weapons on people, it may go a long way to identifying who are (at risk) in certain hazardous situations. Right now, I don’t think anybody really knows."

The committee, which met in early January in Victoria, will have its report ready to present at a Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police conference in August.

The committee will also look at any new medical literature that may have been published since 2005 on Taser use.

All Canadian police forces have been asked to submit frequency-of-use reports relating to stun guns. "I’ll be interested to see the data and how it compares nationally to Nova Scotia." Nova Scotia forces recently submitted their Taser-use statistics to a provincial panel that made its initial Taser report public on Wednesday. Deputy Chief Burbridge is also part of that expert panel.

Halifax Regional Police track the number of times officers unholster their Tasers and when the stun guns are fired during the course of duty. Every police force in the country should have a minimum standard of information they must report regarding the use of force, including Taser use, Deputy Chief Burbridge said.

The committee is also trying to compile a minimum standard for stun gun training across the country.

The first part of the Nova Scotia report, released Wednesday, revealed that there are many discrepancies in training among provincial police forces. The veteran officer would like to see a national weapons-evaluation centre established.

Besides the Nova Scotia review of Taser use and the Canadian Police Research Centre’s study, there are several other reviews being conducted into the death of a Polish man at the Vancouver International Airport late last year.

Robert Dziekanski’s death catapulted the stun gun controversy into the national forefront.

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