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Saturday, March 08, 2008

Police say they use Tasers on non-violent people

March 8, 2008
Chad Skelton, Vancouver Sun

I am trying to find out why there is nothing in the taser Use 2004 section about my brother or Roman Andreichikov, both of whom died that year after being tasered by VPD.

Vancouver police regularly use Tasers to subdue people who are unarmed and non-violent, according to internal reports released by the force.

On Friday, in response to a Freedom of Information request, VPD published on its website details of the about 150 times officers drew their Tasers from 2002 to early 2007.

The more than 70 pages of reports include cases where the electric shock weapon was drawn from its holster but not fired.

The reports cover cases in which the Taser was fired at a suspect from a distance and cases where it was used in "drive stun" mode -- where a shock is administered by holding the device directly against a suspect.

The reports indicate that, in most cases in which Vancouver officers fired the Taser from a distance, the person was acting violently -- from fighting with officers to threatening themselves or others with a weapon.

"[Officers] observed the male stabbing himself in the stomach with a pen," reads one report from 2006. "When [officers] challenged the suspect, he ran at them and the [Taser] was fired. The suspect immediately fell to the ground and was handcuffed."

However, in a number of cases, police used the Taser as soon as someone displayed a "fighting stance" or simply to get a non-violent suspect to do what they were told.

"Suspect fled from plainclothes members and resisted arrest when caught. Suspect was taken to the ground but refused to allow [officers] to handcuff him and held his arms underneath his body," reads one report from 2006. "Strikes and open hand techniques were attempted but the suspect was still resisting. A [Taser] drive stun was applied to the suspect's lower back and the suspect was then handcuffed."

Jason Gratl, president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said he was troubled to see Vancouver police are using the Taser as a compliance tool. "The officers seem content to Taser individuals for lack of compliance with verbal commands or aggressive posturing," said Gratl. "It is dead certain from these reports that Tasers are not merely an alternative to the use of sidearms but are used in practice as a convenient tool to gain physical control over individuals."

There is debate over whether the Taser should be used to get non-violent suspects to comply with police orders. In December, Paul Kennedy, head of the RCMP's Commission for Public Complaints, published a report saying Tasers were used too often and recommended police use them only against suspects who are being "combative" or "posing a risk of death or grievous bodily harm" to themselves or others.

VPD Const. Jana McGuiness said the force believes the Taser is sometimes the safest option for controlling someone who is resisting arrest. "The problem is when you have a subject resisting to that degree, your chances of injuring yourself or that person escalates," she said. "The Taser allows [police] to gain control with the minimum amount of injury to themselves or the suspect."

According to the VPD, suicide attempts were an issue in about one in five Taser deployments and drugs or alcohol were a factor in one in three.

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