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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Public must demand responsible taser use

April 6, 2008
Paul Pearson, Special to Victoria Times Colonist

The debate about Taser use in Canada has grown exponentially in recent months. It seems that almost every week there is a news story about questionable use of a Taser by police, or, more tragically, someone dying as a result of being shot with a Taser.

It is becoming increasingly clear the Canadian public does not condone the use of the Taser as an "attitude adjustment" or as a street-level penalty for non-compliance.

The difficulty with these situations is that the public is often left with two very different stories: That of the police and that of person on the receiving end of the Taser.

A prime example of this was the tragedy of Robert Dziekanski's death immediately after being tasered in Vancouver International Airport. There were immediate and conflicting reports about what happened.

Only by providence was the entire incident caught on video by Paul Pritchard. The RCMP (after being sued) returned the video and the conflict about events was decisively resolved. Unfortunately for the RCMP, it was clear many of the details they had offered about the situation were simply false.

The debate is often presented as an incurable situation in which police demand to use a device they say is safer and more effective than other options, but where the public is alarmed by the increasing number of questionable Taser deployments.

In a perfect world there would be a simple, inexpensive and effective way to prevent improper Taser use and provide clarifying evidence like in the Dziekanski case if a complaint arises.

While we don't live in a perfect world, there does appear to be just such a solution.

It comes straight from Taser International, makers of the Taser. It is a golf-ball-sized digital video camera that attaches to the butt of a Taser weapon and records the officer's point of view in full video and audio when the weapon's safety is off. The camera costs only $400 and records up to 1.5 hours of good quality footage.

Taser International states that the "Taser Cam" offers "increased accountability -- not just for officers, but for the people they arrest. Until now, it's been the officer's word against the suspect's word. Now with the Taser Cam recorder, every potential Taser deployment can be documented with full audio and video -- even in zero light conditions."

If the police in Canada would only agree to mount this small device on their Tasers, two objectives would be met. If someone complained about the use of the Taser, any reviewing body could watch full audio and video of the target's actions before they were Tasered. Were they just being verbally abusive or were they violent and dangerous? Every time officers pulled their Taser and contemplated using it, they would know their actions would be recorded for review. Gone would be the days of the "attitude adjustment" use of the Taser.

Faced with the heavy criticism of their Taser use, how can any police force refuse to attach this camera to their Tasers? We should be very wary of someone who, while working as a public servant, wants to be able to use this kind of potentially lethal weapon "in private."

The public should demand these cameras be implemented immediately. They would help prevent, and immediately expose, abusive use of this formidable weapon.

Paul Pearson is a criminal defence lawyer who sued the RCMP for the return of the Dziekanski footage. He is a partner at Mulligan Tam Pearson.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Having a camera is a good idea but it should also have audio as the police can say their life was threatened so it was self defence. Also if the camera only comes on when the safety is off on the taser, the police can lie about what transpired prior to the camera starting and again claim they were threatened. Like they've never lied before????