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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Tasers holstered - Regina police commission restricts use to SWAT team members

April 10, 2008
Heather Polischuk, The Leader-Post

Plans to have all officers outfitted with conducted energy devices (CEDs) by the end of this year have been shelved for the time being, after the devices were pulled from most Regina Police Service members in December.

"Back in October of last year, you recall that we began a program of training and equipping our frontline officers to carry CEDs, and that was the result of approval in principle by the Saskatchewan Police Commission," RPS spokeswoman Elizabeth Popowich said, referring to the body that regulates the province's municipal police forces. "But then we were notified in mid-December by the police commission that the final authorization wasn't complete. So as soon as we were notified, we took steps right away to remove CEDs from the frontline, pending that final approval from the police commission."

A spokesperson for the SPC was not available for comment on Wednesday.

Popowich said RPS administration put out a departmental notice on Dec. 19, advising that only certain members will continue to have access to Tasers -- the brand of CED used by the RPS -- in a limited number of circumstances. "Currently, the Regina Police Service has CEDs in use only by SWAT team members, and only in tactical situations, and that would have been the same type of deployment that was present before we started an expansion," Popowich said.

CED training has also been shelved for the time being.

The December notice came only a month after now-retired RPS chief Cal Johnston said that, contrary to some police forces in the country, the RPS would not suspend its use of Tasers, at least pending further study. He had been answering media questions in regards to a Vancouver case where a man died after being Tasered. Since then, several other uses of the now-controversial weapons have also led to death in Canada.

However, Johnston had noted the RPS has "one of the most conservative, I think, policies with respect to CEDs in the country."

In 2006, RPS members deployed a CED 11 times, and there were 21 uses in 2007 -- the number being higher likely because more members had been cleared to carry them, police said. Until the devices were pulled, they were only allowed to be signed out and used by members who had successfully completed specialized CED training. The RPS also has strict reporting requirements, Johnston had said, adding that EMS is called automatically anytime the device is used. No cases of Taser use in Regina have resulted in a serious medical problem, police reported.

Popowich said the SPC's lack of final authorization to date "is not saying that our training or our requirements were inadequate," but rather "a step in the authorization process that hasn't been reached yet. We've got a very productive and very strong relationship with the police commission and if there is something that needs to be added or something that needs to change, then those discussions will occur," she said. "If the police commission makes a decision that means that program and plan is on hold indefinitely, then we're completely respectful of that decision."

Mayor Pat Fiacco, chairman of Regina's Board of Police Commissioners, said he also supports the SPC in its regulatory role, noting the continued absence of a final decision may be in part due to public concerns about CED use. "I've learned in this job over the past eight years that sometimes these things take longer than one would expect," Fiacco said.

Even so, the mayor said the issue will remain firmly on his radar until the SPC delivers an answer. "The question we have to ask ourselves is: What is the downside of not having (Tasers) available?" Fiacco said. "We haven't experienced the downside as of yet. But we'll be into four or five months at the next Board of Police Commissioners meeting and I'll be raising the question with the acting chief of police."

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