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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Taser policy gap worrying

April 16, 2008
Victoria News

It’s been 10 years since the province OK’d the use of conducted energy weapons – more commonly known by the brand name Taser – but left the specifics regarding what is or isn’t acceptable in their use up to individual police agencies.

Victoria Police Department officers were the first in Canada to carry the devices in December 1998, the department's first policy for their use was approved by the Victoria Police Board that month.

In three years of records accessed by the Victoria News, the VPD’s most common deployment of the Taser has been the push-stun method, in which suspects resisting arrest are touched directly by the electronic weapon and given a painful jolt of current.

However, the current policy, amended four times since the initial one was written, lists only two methods of using the Taser to control a subject: officers can threaten to use it, or deploy it “to cause a motor dysfunction,” which involves firing a pair of barbed probes into the subject then sending a jolt of current through them.

According to figures generated from police reports, the push-stun method of using the TASER – was used in 54 per cent of all Taser deployments from 2005 to 2007. Using the barbed probes to cause a muscle dysfunction was a close second.

We find it more than a tad alarming, that somehow -- it’s unclear why -- the most common mode of use of the weapon is not only absent from the use of force policy for Tasers written for the department, but has not been approved by the Victoria Police Board, whose job as the force’s civilian oversight is to rule on what level of force is acceptable.

Whether it was the result of an oversight somewhere in the process of policy approval or a deliberate decision by the board remains unknown.

We’re confident Victoria police officers are receiving solid training in the safe and appropriate use of the weapon. And while the pain compliance role of the push-stun mode may make some cringe, used appropriately it can help end police confrontations quickly and with fewer injuries to police, suspects and the public than hand-to-hand fighting or other intermediate police weapons.

But it’s concerning that such a gap should exist between the department’s understanding of how the Taser fits in their arsenal and what has been clearly endorsed by the police board. The gap could open the way for a lawsuit from someone claiming the weapon was used on them unlawfully, potentially putting taxpayers on the hook for damages.

An amendment to the policy is already in the works, but the gaffe still demands an explanation from police management and the board. We hope it doesn’t end up costing more than red faces.


Kate said...

I'd like to understand more about "three point contact", which has been advocated in stun gun instructions as providing a more powerful shock. If a fired taser only has one barb make contact, that apparently can be followed by a drive stun which arcs to the barb already in place, so the touch stun is paralytic as well as burning, and the duration would be different. Would this show as just a touch stun in the taser's memory? Have any medical studies have evlauated this practice?

Kevin said...

Im more curious about how many times a Taser was "deployed" and either not used or used without a death resulting.

Also, I'm curious to the number of officers who died after being tased in the taser training. 95% of certified road officers in our department were tased and no one died. Hmmm, makes me wonder if there may have been other extinuating circumstances surrounding the 343+ deaths being quoted.