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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Toronto Transit Commission studies using tasers

Apr 17, 2008
Debra Black and Tess Kalinowski, Toronto Star

The TTC is looking into whether its special constables should be armed with guns or Tasers. A consultant's review will cost the Toronto Transit Commission $100,000 to study its use-of-force policies, assessing if constables should "be armed with firearms, Tasers, that kind of thing," said TTC spokesperson Brad Ross. Constables now can use pepper spray, collapsible batons and handcuffs.

The study into the use of Tasers and firearms was commissioned as part of an ongoing "standard review" of the special constable forces, TTC chair Adam Giambrone said. This "independent and comprehensive assessment" will be completed by the end of the year.

Giambrone said he is not personally in favour of arming constables with either Tasers or guns. "No evidence has been provided to me so far that indicates our special constables have to be armed any further than they are today," he said in an interview. "In my opinion they don't need to be armed any further. They have the backup of the Toronto police."

Ross said the review of the TTC's use-of-force policy was triggered by "a desire to address health and safety concerns that the special constables have regarding their work."

The agency decided to ask for an assessment of what would constitute appropriate use of force by its constables while protecting themselves, staff, patrons or property.

Crimes on TTC property jumped by about 24 per cent in 2006, according to a special investigation by the Toronto Star. At least 181 TTC drivers have suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, a rate four times higher than that of Toronto police officers, according to the investigation.

Vancouver's transit police carry Tasers; it is the only armed transit police service in the country. Tasers were used 10 times in the past 18 months in the city, including five times against riders who allegedly were trying to evade paying fares. An inquiry into their overall use begins next month in British Columbia. It will also examine whether transit police should carry the devices.

The Taser's use among police forces nationally has been criticized after Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski died shortly after being Tasered at Vancouver's airport last year. Amnesty International has called for a moratorium on all Taser use in Canada.

Tasers are currently used only by Toronto police supervisors, although police chief Bill Blair has said he prefers every police officer to be armed with a Taser as well as a firearm. The TTC's 95 special constables make more than 950 arrests each year and issue approximately 5,500 provincial tickets. The constables respond to about 10,000 calls a year. By the end of this year, the number of special constables on the TTC will grow to 117.

"As the force expands and defines itself, questions like this come up from time to time," Giambrone said. Only a couple of weeks ago, an 18-year-old woman was shot in the leg inside a subway car, seconds after the bells chimed and the subway doors opened at Spadina station. Giambrone said that incident has nothing to do with the newly announced review, which had been in the works for months.

If the consultant's report recommends the use of Tasers and firearms and the TTC approves the recommendation, the final decision would still be up to the Police Services Board. Many special TTC constables are former police officers or Toronto police officers who have been seconded to the TTC force, said Giambrone.

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