British Columbia Attorney General's Ministry concerned about police use of force before airport death: documents
June 5, 2008
The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER — The B.C. Attorney General's Ministry had concerns about Taser use and the general use of force by police for years before a man died after being jolted by an RCMP Taser at Vancouver's airport.
The admission is in a written report submitted to a B.C. public inquiry into the use of the conducted energy weapons that was prompted by the death of Robert Dziekanski at the airport last October.
The ministry report also conceded that there has been "slippage" in the standards for using the weapons, leading to them be deployed during increasingly lower-risk encounters. "Concerns around CEW (conducted energy weapon) use, and the use of force in general, have become increasingly apparent to Police Services Division in the past few years," the report said. "Prior to, and following, the tragic death of Mr. Dziekanski, Police Services Division has taken a number of steps toward addressing increasing concerns...."
But the ministry's public service division still views the shock device as a less lethal force option for resolving high-risk situations, "and as such, does not support a moratorium on its use," said the documents.
Another report submitted to the inquiry also reveals the disparity of opinion among law enforcement officials on when it's appropriate to use a Taser. Some forces have come under fire for using the stun guns not in dangerous situations, but in an effort to force co-operation.
However, a submission to the inquiry by the Corrections Branch of the Ministry of the Solicitor General indicates corrections officers are trained to use the Taser for compliance.
The submission said guards in the province's nine correction centres do most of their work unarmed and can only use a conducted energy weapon with the approval of the jail's warden or authorized deputy.
Corrections has a clear set of policies about when the weapon can be used, including to compel compliance.
The corrections policies on Taser use, including in tactical operations, were set up to respond to an escape, to compel compliance, to stop violent or destructive behaviour and to protect the safety of staff or inmates.
The report said since the weapon was introduced in April 2003, it has been authorized for use 150 times and fired only on 32 occasions. At the same time, the jail population has jumped by almost 30 per cent and a substantially higher proportion of inmates are considered high-risk offenders.
"Nevertheless, there has not been a significant or corresponding rise in CED (conducive energy device) use this term. On the contrary, there has been an overall downward trend in the rate of use of CEDs," the report said.
The branch report said use of the device appears to have contributed to a reduction in the level of other forms of force needed to control destructive or violent inmates.
Corrections officers using the weapon must be trained and recertified every two years, using the standards and curriculum suggested by Taser International, the corrections submission states.
Each of the province's 11 independent municipal police departments, the Greater Vancouver Transit Authority, the RCMP and the Stl'atl'imx First Nation police are responsible for their own policies and policing standards are "decentralized," said the police services division report.
"Police Services Division, while supporting the use of the conducted energy weapons by police, is of the view that an appropriate threshold of use must be established for all policing agencies," the attorney general's division report recommended.
It's an idea inquiry commissioner Thomas Braidwood, a retired B.C. Appeal Court judge, will have to consider before he hands in his report on the first phase of his two-part inquiry later this year.
Braidwood held three weeks of public hearings which included submissions from police, health experts, politicians and Taser International Inc., the maker of the most popular type of stun weapon.
The inquiry report is expected to make recommendations on police use of Tasers, training and other aspects that emerged during the hearing phase. Phase Two of the inquiry will focus specifically on the death of Dziekanski, but only after other investigations are complete.
The police services division report said the solicitor general's ministry had already begun its own multi-phase review to centralize standards and police policies before Dziekanski's death.
The review was meant to establish a new set of high-level policing standards, set up a regular schedule of audit and inspections for independent police forces, enhance governance and review police training.
The ministry division has also hired a new use-of-force program manager to provide a type of civilian overview on use-of-force issues and policies. However, much of that work is on hold pending the outcome of the Taser inquiry. In 2005, a provincial use-of-force co-ordinator was hired, largely to develop an electronic template for the provincial police records management system called PRIME. That template is now in the implementation phase. "All of these initiatives are aimed at ensuring public safety and improving policing policy, while balancing both police and civilian perspectives," the report concludes.