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Saturday, May 17, 2008

New use-of-taser term is 'actively resistant'

Saturday, May 17, 2008
Neal Hall and David Hogben, Vancouver Sun

The deputy chief of the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority Police Service told a provincial Taser inquiry Friday that it has changed its controversial Taser policy.

The new policy replaces the term "non-compliant" with "actively resistant," Ken Allen said.

The Taser policy was changed Monday by the GVTAPS board, which includes four senior officers and three civilians.

"The original policy allowed Tasering in situations where a person was non-compliant," Allen told the inquiry.

He said the change was done in response to concerns raised by the public.

"The concern was non-compliant could be construed as non-payment of fares by the public," Allen explained.

The old policy, adopted a year ago, caused a public outcry after it was learned through a Freedom of Information request that transit police had deployed a Taser on non-violent passengers, including a person who had not paid his fare and tried to run away from an officer.

The old policy stated: "A Taser may be deployed. . . to gain physical control of a non-compliant, suicidal or potentially violent subject."

Inquiry counsel Art Vertlieb asked Allen if the new policy would allow a Taser to be deployed on a person fleeing police during a "fare blitz" -- a check to see if passengers had paid fares.

"It would depend on the extenuating circumstances surrounding why the individual was fleeing," the deputy chief replied.

Allen said the GVTAPS has also asked the Police Complaints Commissioner to investigate every incident of Taser use by the transit police force in the last 10 months.

The transit police initially declined an invitation to appear before the inquiry but were ordered this week by Solicitor-General John van Dongen to appear.

The police force said it didn't initially make a submission at the inquiry because it did not want to do anything to interfere with the Police Complaints Commission investigation into Taser use by the force.

Allen told inquiry commissioner Thomas Braidwood that 93 of the force's 156 officers are trained to use Tasers. The force has 20 Tasers, which officers sign out each shift.

Allen said GVTAPS is the only armed transit police force in Canada. Last year, he said, the force recorded 43,000 incidents and made more than 2,300 arrests, including 666 for outstanding warrants, 92 involving weapons associated with robberies, 143 for assaults with weapons and 619 for drug offences.

Gordon Keast, whose freedom-of-information requests kicked off the transit police Taser-use controversy, was unimpressed with the change in wording for Taser-use policy.

"Combative or posing a risk of death or grievous bodily harm would be better" and is what the RCMP's public complaints commissioner has recommended, Keast said.

"Changing the wording does not mean the Taser is safe," said Keast, who pointed out that "actively resistant" is still open to a broad interpretation.

"It could mean turning away or saying no" to a transit police officer, he said.

He hopes the inquiry leads to provincial guidelines that do not allow for use of the Taser unless absolutely necessary.

"We need a provincial use-of-force policy governing Tasers and it's something the solicitor-general should be involved in determining," Keast said.

Earlier Friday, Dr. Joe Noone, a psychiatrist who is a director of a secure ward at Riverview Hospital, told the inquiry that police often use the term "excited delirium" to describe the agitated behaviour of people who die in police custody.

"It's being used more and more frequently to absolve law enforcement for in-custody deaths," he said, adding "excited delirium" is non-existent medical diagnosis that is used by Taser International, the U.S. manufacturer of Tasers.

He said he prefers the old police term "emotionally disturbed person."

Dealing with such people, he said, requires treating the person with respect and using non-threatening communication skills.

"We're working with them, not against him," Noone said.

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