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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Expert uncertain if tasers can cause death

May 6, 2008
Neal Hall , Vancouver Sun

VANCOUVER - An officer who is in charge of the Taser program for the Victoria police department told a public inquiry Tuesday that he's uncertain if Tasers cause death.

"I think I would be negligent if I stood up here and said they don't cause death," Constable Mike Massine told inquiry commissioner Thomas Braidwood, a retired B.C. Court of Appeal judge who is conducting the first public inquiry into the controversial use of Tasers, which are officially known as conducted energy weapons (CEWs).

"I don't know what the answer is," the officer added. "I certainly wouldn't rule it out."

The officer said Victoria police have been using CEWs since 1998 and the city has not experienced a death from using the weapon.

"The weapons appear safe," Massine told the inquiry, adding there may be a variety of factors involved in CEW-related deaths, including those suffering medical conditions and the behaviour of the subject. "To blame one certain thing I think is wrong," he said. "The No. 1 police priority is the preservation of life," he said. "There can be no medical treatment without restraint."

He used a Power Point presentation to show there have been 20 CEW-related deaths in B.C. between 2003 and 2005, and seven in B.C. in the last five years.

Massine, who has a master's degree but works on street patrol and has used CEWs 50 times, said a common misconception is that the Taser is used as an alternative to deadly force. "It was never intended as a substitute for deadly force," he explained.

He said the CEW is an intermediate weapon that falls into the same category as bean-bag guns, police batons and anti-riot weapons that fire rubber bullets. Such weapons are used when someone is actively resisting arrest or police commands.

Massine said his partner used a CEW on a person sleeping on the street last week. He recalled they woke the man up and he immediately was angry and came at the officers and began assaulting them.

The inquiry, which started Monday in Vancouver, is in its first phase of public forums, which are scheduled to continue until May 23.

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