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Friday, May 09, 2008

Tasers aren't firearms, says trainer

May 9, 2008

Tasers are no substitute for deadly force, according to the Vancouver police department's conducted energy weapons trainer.

Const. Tammy Hammell appeared before the Braidwood Inquiry yesterday and said while Tasers can be used instead of guns in certain situations, they can't always be relied on in dangerous incidents.

"The Taser device is not a substitute for lethal force," she said. "The public has been educated it is, but it's not. It's a complimentary tool for a firearm, not a duct-tape solution." The real value in the Taser is to create a "window of opportunity" that allows police to arrest someone who is actively resisting arrest or worse.

That's especially true when it comes to people who show signs of "excited delirium," which appears to be a common thread among Taser-related deaths.

"If we see those signs and symptoms, we see this is a medical emergency. At that point, we want to save this person's life," Hammell said. Doing so requires officers to get the person into custody as soon as possible so they can get medical attention, often with a Taser.

B.C.'s director of police services, Kevin Begg, said Wednesday that the government was concerned Tasers are being used in "increasingly low-risk situations."

But Hammell, who reviews incident reports every time the VPD deploys a Taser, said she's only had to talk to an officer about inappropriate Taser use once. In that case, the officer was criticized for using a Taser instead of a gun in a potentially deadly situation.

"He was not using enough force," Hammell said. "Luckily, everything turned out okay."

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