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Monday, March 10, 2008

EDITORIAL: More doubts on taser use

March 9, 2008
Halifax Chronicle Herald

POLICE in Nova Scotia should keep Tasers holstered until a provincial review of the potent weapons is completed and any recommendations acted upon.

That’s been our stance on Tasers since the review was announced last fall, when a number of Taser-related deaths in Canada, including in Nova Scotia, garnered headlines from coast to coast. We see no reason to change that position now that the initial findings of that review have been made public. Simply put, more studies are needed on how Tasers can impact the human body, and more consistency – and restraint – is necessary in police training and rules of engagement using the stun guns.

The findings of the provincial review, released last week, only reinforce our belief that government should implement a temporary moratorium on police use of Tasers. The Justice Department study found widely inconsistent rules for their use, along with uneven training programs. (The weapons can deliver thousands of volts of electricity, incapacitating a subject.)

The review found that police officers in various parts of the province are following different guidelines on the number of times a Taser should be used against an individual, whether firing a Taser at a subject requires prior approval from a supervisor and even about the types of warnings to be issued to someone who may be about to be Tasered.

In the wake of a disturbing number of deaths in Canada in recent years – as well as in other countries – after individuals were Tasered by police, a number of troubling questions remain unanswered. Despite claims by Taser proponents the weapons are safe, scientists and doctors have raised concerns about possible links between Tasers and potential heart and respiration problems, mental health and an individual’s state of exhaustion or agitation in confrontations with authorities. Certainly, too many people have ended up dying after incidents in which they were Tasered.

The public has also been concerned about what seems to be inappropriate use of Tasers in certain situations, such as when a Dartmouth teenage girl was Tasered by police officers in her own bedroom in February, 2007. In that regard, the provincial review’s finding that rules for deploying Tasers in Nova Scotia are all over the map is not reassuring. Critics are also worried Tasers are being used in Halifax at a rate far greater than in Toronto.

Public confidence in police use of Tasers has been shaken by deaths that have occurred, as well as when and how the weapons are used. Tasers should not be used until that confidence is restored.

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