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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Halifax police forgoing Tasers for batons

March 6, 2008
CBC News

Halifax's police chief says some officers are ignoring their Tasers and reaching for their night sticks instead, leading to more violent confrontations and injuries. Police Chief Frank Beazley said officers are reluctant to use the stun guns because of the controversy swirling around the weapons.

Halifax police Chief Frank Beazley says the notoriety of Tasers has officers reaching for other tools instead. "It's having a negative impact on officers and the public who are both being injured because we're resorting to other tools," he said, "and when you resort to tools like pepper spray or batons, injuries are going to increase."

The hand-held stun guns deliver a jolt of electricity to the person targeted. Recent Taser-related deaths have re-ignited a national debate about the use of the weapons in Canada. In Nova Scotia, the use of the devices has gone up 80 per cent since 2005, from 101 to 182 times in 2007, according to a provincial report released Wednesday.

The review of stun guns found the Halifax Regional Police, which first acquired nine Tasers in 2002, reported a big drop in injuries in interactions between police and citizens in 2006, after more stun guns were acquired and more officers were trained to use them.

The review also said injury rates went up from 2006 to 2007, though no numbers were given. The authors speculated this was the result of officers being more reluctant to use Tasers.

The review also found that standards for use and training vary among police and correctional agencies. For example, municipal police and officers with sheriff services are required to have eight hours of training to use stun guns, while RCMP and correctional officers need 16.

Beazley said officers under his command are well-trained on how to use the devices. He questions one of the report's suggestions to look at a standard set of rules on Taser use, saying he's not sure that will help. Ian Atkins, the assistant commissioner of the RCMP in Nova Scotia, isn't sold either. "Whether there's actually written policies that say, 'I can use it here and I can't there,' policing is really discretionary," Atkins said. Atkins and six others have been named to an advisory panel that will review the report and make recommendations to Justice Minister Cecil Clarke. Clarke ordered the review of Taser use in Nova Scotia after the death of a Dartmouth man last November.

Howard Hyde, 45, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, was shocked with a stun gun by police. He died 30 hours later in jail, immediately following a struggle with guards. Officials would not link his death to the use of the weapon. A month earlier, Robert Dziekanski, a 40-year-old Polish man, died at Vancouver International Airport shortly after being stunned with a Taser by police. Quilem Registre, 38, of Montreal, was shocked and died later in hospital.

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