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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

RCMP overuse of tasers concerns officials

April 2, 2008
Richard Watts and Rob Shaw, Victoria Times Colonist

Civilian officials charged with overseeing the RCMP have long held strong concerns about Tasers and their expanding use by police. Nelson Kalil, spokesman for the Ottawa-based Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, said they're worried about "usage creep" within the force.

He said officers appear to sometimes use the weapon to enforce control of a suspect or prod someone along, as opposed to using it as a near-to-last resort option to bring a suspect under control. "You can see how this weapon is being downgraded over time," Kalil said yesterday.

In a presentation last month to the federal government committee on public safety and national security, commission chairman Paul Kennedy said the use of Tasers should be restricted to incidents where the individual is combative or poses a serious risk of death or harm.

"I want to be very clear, the Taser is a pain-inducing weapon, where application on the human body, unlike a service handgun or baton, leaves very little residual evidence of use," Kennedy told the committee. "This device causes intense pain."

The Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, which answers directly to Parliament, will release a final report in June, recommending how and when officers use the electro-shock device.

In general, most police forces train their officers to use reasonable force to subdue a person -- however, they aren't expected to try out all their options before using a Taser. The National Use of Force Framework, used as a training tool in municipal police forces -- the RCMP has its own similar guidelines -- does not bind officers to think about types of force in sequential order, said Const. Mike Niederlinski, Victoria police control tactics co-ordinator.

For example, police don't have to try and fail to subdue the person by tackling or striking them, or using pepper spray, a baton or a bean-bag gun, before turning to the Taser or handgun.

"It's not a linear model where you have to exhaust each step," said Niederlinski. "What courts expect us to do is what a reasonable, well-trained, officer would do in a similar set of circumstances."

"There's no obligation under law to use minimum force, there's an obligation to use reasonable force," said Joel Johnson, B.C.'s police use of force co-ordinator at the Justice Institute police academy in Vancouver. "There is an ethical obligation to try and resolve things without having to use force."

Johnson said that the reality of many situations, though, is based on the suspect's response to the officer. "Unfortunately, there are some people, no matter what you say and no matter who says it, who are going to cause an escalation in officer response based on their behaviour."

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