May 18, 2008
Chronicle Herald (Halifax)
THE grieving mother of Robert Dziekanski, the Polish immigrant who died after being Tasered by Mounties at Vancouver’s international airport last fall, last week told a B.C. public inquiry into Taser use that the incident has "shattered" her faith in the RCMP.
Police forces across Canada which use Tasers should be paying close attention to Zofia Cisowski’s words.
Despite a string of unexplained incidents – in Canada and elsewhere – in which people have died after being Tasered, police spokesmen have continued, for the most part, to defend Tasers as safe, useful tools for law enforcement. Tasers are proven to have saved thousands of lives, they say, echoing claims – and sometimes the precise numbers used – by the device’s manufacturer, Taser International. Tasers are a superior alternative, backers claim, when otherwise deadly force might need to be used.
The trouble is, the real life evidence backing these claims is sometimes sparse.
If thousands of lives have been saved because of Taser use, surely police forces can produce hundreds of examples showing where that was the case. As for the claim of Tasers being a better option than firearms, surely police are not saying they would otherwise have had to use their guns in incidents such as when an 82-year-old man was Tasered in his hospital bed in B.C. recently because he was brandishing a penknife, or when a Dartmouth teenager was Tasered in her own bedroom in February 2007, after being unco-operative with police called to the house by a parent.
The public’s faith in the judgment of law enforcement officials – including the transit police in Vancouver, who have been Tasering some people who have attempted to flee rather than pay their fares – has been continually eroded by reports of incidents in which police officers use Tasers both too quickly and against inappropriate targets. It’s as if police, rather than trying to talk down situations, reach for the "Easy" button and draw and fire their Tasers.
Even more disturbing is recent evidence that Tasers may, in certain circumstances, affect the heart’s internal rhythms. Dr. Zia Tseng, a San Francisco cardiologist and electrophysiologist, earlier told the B.C. inquiry that Tasers pose potentially fatal health risks which are not taken into account by studies "proving" the devices’ safety. Taser research, he said, is done under optimal conditions, not the kind of operational realities police officers often face. Fatal arrhythmias induced by Tasers wouldn’t show up in autopsies, Dr. Tseng also testified.
Earlier in May, the Canadian Medical Association Journal released a new study showing Tasers could, depending on how close to the heart a shock was administered and whether the subject being Tasered had excess levels of adrenaline or other drugs in their system, adversely affect heart rhythms. In light of those findings, the Journal’s reporting that RCMP operating manuals actually suggest Tasers might be the "most effective" way to deal with agitated, delirious people surely indicates those manuals need revision.
With serious questions about safety, and inconsistencies in police training and policies, we urge the Taser be holstered.
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Sunday, May 18, 2008
May 18, 2008