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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Reposition taser, Dosanjh urges

May 13, 2008

Former B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh said at a Taser inquiry Monday that there should be stricter guidelines about when police can deploy Tasers.

"I believe this particular tool must be repositioned, higher up [the police use-of-force continuum]," he told inquiry commissioner Thomas Braidwood, a retired appeal court judge.

He also recommended better training of police in the use of Tasers and setting national standards for Taser use.

Dosanjh, now a Liberal MP and public-safety critic who is sitting on a parliamentary committee examining Taser use in Canada, recalled he was B.C.'s attorney-general when he first allowed Tasers to be used by police.

"I was given several assurances that the Taser was absolutely safe to use," he told the inquiry, adding he now knows that seven people have died in B.C. after receiving one or more Taser jolts, which incapacitates an individual through a five-second electrical shock.

"The research to date is inadequate and in some cases misleading," Dosanjh said.

He questioned whether Taser use can cause heart arrhythmia or sometimes death, adding: "I'm not a scientist or expert in the use of force."

When first approved for use in B.C. in 2000, the Taser was supposed to be used sparingly by police in "assaultive and combative situations, where a person is a danger to others," Dosanjh explained.

But in recent years there has been "usage creep" and the use of the weapons has shot up, he said.

"It is also being used in situations where it wasn't contemplated," Dosanjh said, citing the use of Tasers by local transit police on fare evaders. "That is something I would have never imagined.

"It is being used as a substitute for ordinary, old-fashioned policing or talking to people."

Dosanjh told the inquiry that the onus should be on the manufacturer, Taser International, to conclusively prove there is no evidence that Tasers can kill people.

More than 300 people in North America, among them 20 in Canada and seven in B.C., have died after being jolted by a Taser.

Earlier in the day, Tom Smith, chair of Taser International, based in Scottsdale, Arizona, told the inquiry that Tasers are like air bags, which save lives during car crashes but occasionally contribute to the death of a person.

"Are Tasers risk-free? No, they cause people to fall down," Smith told the inquiry, pointing out that Tasers save 70 lives for every life lost.

Smith said studies show Tasers reduce the number of injuries to officers and suspects being arrested.

He said police forces such as Cincinnati, since adopting Tasers, reported officer injuries have dropped 75 per cent, suspect injuries are down by 40 per cent and use-of-force complaints against police are down 50 per cent.

Smith said it is a myth that there have been no independent studies of Taser use.

There have 129 medical and field studies, he said, with less than 20 per cent funded by Taser International.

"I certainly encourage more studies," Smith told reporters after his presentation. "This is the most studied non-lethal force option in the world."

He pointed out that Amnesty International is one of Taser's biggest critics but it has not funded any scientific research to support its allegations.

Smith said one study looked at a continuous Taser shock of 45 seconds, which found no evidence of increased risk.

"You show me the science that says risk increases with multiple exposures," he told reporters.

He said the death of a Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski last Oct. 14 at Vancouver International Airport was a tragic event that prompted the current inquiry, but it remains unclear what killed the man.

The Dziekanski incident was captured on video by a bystander, resulting in a international public outcry.

The inquiry could result in changes to Taser policy for municipal police forces, sheriffs and provincial corrections staff, but has no jurisdiction over the federally regulated RCMP.

Dosanjh told the inquiry that it impractical to have two police complaint processes in B.C. -- one for municipal police and another for the RCMP, which polices two-thirds of B.C., effectively making it a provincial police force.

He suggested the RCMP contract is coming up for renewal, so it could be negotiated to harmonize the civilian-oversight processes.

"The confidence in the trust between the RCMP and Canadians has been sorely tested," Dosanjh said.

1 comment:

Eric said...

"Are Tasers risk-free? No, they cause people to fall down," Smith told the inquiry, pointing out that Tasers save 70 lives for every life lost.

Interesting to read that even Taser's own Tom Smith seems to agree that tasers kill. Is he losing it?