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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Tasers save lives, prevent injuries police chiefs tell B.C. public inquiry

May 14, 2008
The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER -- There is no uniform policy among municipal police forces in British Columbia on the use of the Taser, says the president of the B.C. Association of Municipal Chiefs of Police.

Bob Rich, who is also deputy chief of the Vancouver Police Department, told a B.C. public inquiry into the use of Tasers that steps are being taken to address that, but right now policies on the use of force are left to each municipal department.

"The lack of clarity, the lack of a provincial policy, and different opinions is something that has made it more difficult and I look forward to the process of making it clear for our officers what we actually expect them to do,'' Rich testified Wednesday.

While there is no uniform policy, Rich said the Police Act "scheme'' on levels of force is used as a guideline.

Yet he said he would support implementation of a provincewide conducted energy weapon policy.

"The association believes a provincewide policy would ensure consistency,'' said Rich. "This province is policed by both municipal and RCMP officers and it would be appropriate for all us to be working with one policy.''

A provincial use-of-force co-ordinator has been asked to recommend uniform standards for Taser use in B.C., Rich testified.

But he testified that while he had not read the Taser policies of each police department, he believes there is reasonable consistency in training for police issued Tasers.

Bill McNaughton, interim police chief in Victoria, said the Taser is now considered an "intermediate'' weapon on the use-of-force continuum, but he conceded there are different models there, too.

"Discussion around this is clouded because of different use-of-force models and potentially different wording that can create some confusion,'' McNaughton said.

But there is an "overarching principle'' that guides all use of force, he said.

"That is the principle of proportionality or reasonableness. They are determined by a wide range of circumstances over which officers generally will have control over very few of those elements.''

But McNaughton agreed with commissioner counsel Patrick McGowan that specific language to better guide Taser users might address so-called "active resistance'' or "assaultive behaviour.''

McGowan suggested that without a clearly defined minimum standard before deployment, there will always be the potential for inappropriate use.

"Are you in favour of a clearly defined minimum standard before which the Taser can be deployed?'' he asked Rich.

"We owe it to our officers to be clear to them when we expect them to use it and not,'' Rich responded.

The inquiry is currently looking into Taser in general by B.C. law enforcement officers.

A later phase will look specifically into the case of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, who died after being hit with a Taser last fall at the Vancouver airport.

Solicitor General John van Dongen ordered the Metro Vancouver transit police Wednesday to make submissions before the inquiry.

Inquiry commissioner Thomas Braidwood, a former judge, expanded the inquiry to include transit police after documents revealed Tasers were used 10 times in the previous 18 months, including five times against riders trying to ride for free.

The transit police had been invited to appear but declined. Van Dongen said that is not an option.

"I have been very clear, unequivocally clear, with the chair of the board what my expectation is and if that isn't met, then I will pursue whatever remedies that I believe are appropriate,'' said van Dongen.

Sgt. Willie Merenick, spokesman for the Metro Vancouver transit police, said they would indeed attend. "We have made application for a time slot and we are waiting for them to get back to us (for a time),'' he said.

Several police chiefs defended use of the controversial shock weapons at the inquiry Wednesday.

Rich said things can go wrong in two ways: misconduct and mistakes. "One, is there is going to be misconduct instances. The other issue is competence, where officers make mistakes. They are human,'' he testified.

Vancouver police Chief Jim Chu told the inquiry that Tasers were used about 100 times in total in 2007 -- about 0.4 per cent of the 25,000 arrests Vancouver police made that year. The province's largest municipal force has 130 Tasers.

Taser use -- and the number of Tasers in the hands of various forces -- also varied greatly from force to force.

Delta police Chief Jim Cessford said he has 160 officers, 30 Tasers, and the weapon was deployed 27 times in the past six years.

But Victoria has 241 officers and 20 Tasers, and deployed them 106 times last year -- more than in Vancouver.

McNaughton said the high percentage reflects the nature of the policing in Victoria.

Although the force polices about 90,000 residents, "the number of people in the city during the day can triple.''

He blamed "significant under-resourcing'' and said that Vancouver police have more backup.




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