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Friday, March 28, 2008

Toronto cops back tasers

March 28, 2008

Tasers are a safe, less deadly way to deal with violent suspects, a Toronto police union official told commissioners after opponents yesterday sought a ban or reduced use of the electric stun guns. "Contrary to the media hype and disinformation, Tasers are a safe and effective direct use of force," George Tucker told the Toronto Police Services Board.

The Toronto Police Association director said there has been "not one single death in Canada from the direct use of a Taser."

After public lobbyists and several board members queried why zappings ranged from "pain compliance" to stun mode, Tucker told the Sun use of force is a last resort, depending on circumstances. Tasers are fired either in response to obvious danger or after efforts to calm a suspect fail and they become agitated, posing a physical threat to themselves or others including police, he said in an interview. Most people don't realize if the ETF is called, "the scene has already escalated to very serious."

Defenders have insisted deaths from a Taser would be instantaneous and those who died had other conditions.

Opponents told the board fears increased after the death of a man the RCMP zapped in October at Vancouver airport.

"There is a lot of confusion about what it is and the circumstances of their use," said Tan Goossen, of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations. "What is the criteria for officers to use them?"

Graeme Norton, of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, demanded an independent body review of all stun gun use plus restrictions for their use only to stop "serious, imminent threat and peril to life." In a letter, Andrew Buxton, head of the local Amnesty International branch, demanded "a moratorium on Taser use."

Since their introduction here and elsewhere, Buxton said police shootings have dropped, but Taser use has risen as officers get into the "habit" of using them.

Blair wants the province to change regulations to permit Tasers for all front-line officers. It has 454 of the 50,000 volt, hand-held devices, which are issued only to trained supervisors and Emergency Task Force (ETF) officers, he told the board. "They are always trained to use the use-of-force option that is ... less lethal."

Tasers were used in 368 cases last year -- the largest number 52 times in Parkdale and 43 in downtown Toronto. Scarborough ranked highest as a district for Taser use.

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