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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Taser Cams put to the test by Ottawa police

April 16, 2008
CBC News

A camera built into the grip of a Taser stun gun that records audio and video during its use is being tested by the Ottawa police force. About 21 officers are carrying Taser Cams in the field and will be testing them over the next six months.

The video camera is built into the bottom of the grip of the Taser and is activated by the release of the safety catch. Steve Tuttle, a spokesman for Taser International in Scottsdale, Ariz., said the Taser Cam is a response to concerns from the public, who want to make sure the devices aren't being used in a careless or brutal manner.

"Adding some accountability does not hurt," he said.

Ottawa police Sgt. Mark Barclay, the force's main stun gun expert, said police hope the cameras will calm the fears of citizens and watchdog groups alike. "Now there's going to be that other piece of evidence that can be brought forward to look at," he said, adding that it will also protect officers from false complaints. "You explain what you're doing."

Reliability an issue

The camera is activated by the release of the stun gun's safety catch and doesn't shut off until the gun is shut down. Taser International said police won't be able to override the camera or edit the footage after the fact.

Barclay said he has used the Taser Cam twice. It worked well on one of those occasions, but the other time, the camera blanked out when Barclay pulled the trigger on a man who was holding a knife to his own throat. He said that's the type of scenario the device is designed for.

So far, another problem with the cameras is that police are trained to shoot their service pistols with a two-handed hold, and may use that hold for their stun gun in a stressful situation, blocking the camera lens, Barclay said.

Recordings may be incomplete: critic

Matthew MacGarvey, a lawyer who helped win an appeal case that found an Ottawa police officer guilty of excessive force after a stun gun was used on an Ottawa man at a demonstration in 2003, said he likes the idea of the camera in theory, as pictures and audio often help get to the truth of an incident. However, MacGarvey said he believes the Taser Cam begins recording too late and doesn't show what led up to the use of the device.

Footage shot by bystanders helped MacGarvey's client Paul Smith win his case after an appeal of an internal investigation, and MacGarvey said it was also a bystander's video that led the public to question whether it was really necessary for RCMP officers to use a stun gun on Robert Dziekanski, who died moments later, at the Vancouver airport in October 2007.

In Smith's case, police cameras also videotaped the incident, but their footage blanked out during two periods coinciding with the time police used a stun gun on Smith.

"In the case of the Vancouver airport, if that video would have been shot by a police officer, I don't think we would have seen what we in fact saw," Smith added.

Smith was shot with a stun gun twice by a police officer while handcuffed after taking pictures at a demonstration outside the office of Citizenship and Immigration Canada in downtown Ottawa on May 29, 2003. An internal police investigation found two officers not guilty of excessive use of force. Smith appealed to the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services, which found Sgt. Paulo Batista guilty of excessive use of force in November 2005.

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