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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY of the Report on the RCMP's Use of the Conducted Energy Weapon

June 18, 2008

Like all large institutions, the RCMP is confronted with a host of challenges stemming from a dynamic and demanding environment. At times, fundamental change must be made to address new challenges while also preserving the core attributes of our uniquely Canadian policing model. Built over years of tradition and experience, the core principles of Sir Robert Peel and Sir Richard Mayne are still woven throughout the overall architecture of how the RCMP interact with those it serves.

Experience has shown that the RCMP is not always adequately aware of an existing problem or the degree of action required to address it. This is why public policy debates are essential for institutions such as the RCMP. However, the RCMP has been reticent to accept the premise that its use of the conducted energy weapon (CEW) is in fact very much a public policy issue, and that the public has a role to play in shaping how the police use the weapon.

The heart of the debate over CEW use is about deciding what philosophy of policing the RCMP and the Canadian public want. Is it a model that maintains its philosophical roots to Peel and Mayne, or is it a model based on the notion that the police are the use of force experts and can unilaterally decide what is appropriate for those they serve?

The Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP (the "Commission") is uniquely positioned as an informed interlocutor to bring a much-needed perspective to the public policy debate on the RCMP's use of CEWs. As such, on November 20, 2007, the Minister of Public Safety, the Honourable Stockwell Day, requested that the Commission "[...] review the RCMP's protocols on the use of CEWs and their implementation, including compliance with such protocols and provide an interim report by December 12, 2007."

On December 11, 2007, the Commission provided the Minister with its Interim Report, which made ten (10) recommendations for immediate implementation that covered three broad conclusions:

The RCMP needs to coordinate and strengthen its efforts related to data collection and analysis of CEW use;

The RCMP needs to empirically justify policy shifts with respect to CEW use, especially when that shift loosens the restrictions of deployment; and

The RCMP needs to clarify to its members and to the public when it is permissible to deploy the weapon. (Appendix B)

The Interim Report examined not only those situations where it was appropriate for the RCMP to use the weapon, but also situations where it was inappropriate. This examination concluded that deployment of CEWs should be restricted to those situations where the subject's behaviour was, at a minimum, combative.

Following the release of the Interim Report, the RCMP moved to implement some of the recommendations, albeit at a much slower rate than the Commission had expected. The RCMP failed to implement the primary recommendation of immediately reclassifying the CEW as an impact weapon and allowing for deployment only in situations where an individual was behaving in a manner classified as "combative" or posing a risk of "death or grievous bodily harm" to the member, themselves or the general public. The Commission reaffirms this recommendation.

The RCMP failed to implement the second recommendation related to "excited delirium."(1) RCMP training teaches that "excited delirium" is a medical emergency wherein gaining control of the individual for the purpose of treatment is paramount and where the CEW is viewed as the best option to gain that control. The Commission disagrees with this perspective and reaffirms its recommendation.

The Commission recommended that the RCMP institute and enforce stricter reporting structures. The RCMP is in the process of taking positive steps in this direction, and the Commission is aware that some Divisions are attempting to strengthen their reporting structures and oversight processes, albeit at differing speeds across the country. National uniformity is essential.

The Commission also recommended that the RCMP produce both quarterly and annual statistical reports on CEW use by its members. The Commission has yet to see a quarterly report, though six (6) months have elapsed.

The RCMP did appoint a National Use of Force Coordinator and to its credit some Divisions went further and proactively created a Divisional Use of Force Coordinator to augment the work being done at the national level. In addition, the RCMP has exceeded the recommendation related to recertification and is adopting a one-year recertification requirement for the CEW.

The Commission continues to have three interrelated concerns: 1) that the inappropriate assessment of a subject's behaviour has resulted in elevating the level of intervention beyond what was acceptable according to the RCMP's use of force model; 2) that the position of the CEW on the use of force model allows for the deployment of the weapon far too early in police encounters; and 3) that RCMP data collection and analysis practices for the CEW usage database are both ineffective and inefficient.

Central to the debate over CEW use is the principle that decisions around when to deploy the weapon should be based on the principle of proportionality: the amount of force used should bear some reasonable relationship to the threat the member is facing and its impact upon public safety. This has guided the work undertaken by the Commission for the production of the Final Report.

The Final Report focuses on two main areas: an in-depth statistical analysis of the RCMP CEW database, and a comparative analysis of other police forces' CEW policies.

The main finding within this report is that the quality of data in the CEW usage database is so poor that any of the policy shifts following the 2001 introduction of the weapon cannot be factually supported; this is a dangerous practice, as small policy changes often have major operational consequences.

Officer and subject safety is often discussed in the debate over CEW use. While the CEW reporting system attempts to capture the member's perception of whether the use of the weapon avoided the use of lethal force or injuries, the requirement to simply report a "yes" or "no" answer with no further descriptive or narrative articulation that can be efficiently data-mined renders the database ineffective for this discussion. Contextual information is essential for establishing a factual basis around the officer safety perspective and whether the CEW, as claimed by some, avoids injury to both the subject and the member. Independent data collection and analysis is needed in this area.

After reviewing the database and Forms 3996, the Commission can state:

Supervision to ensure proper CEW deployment reporting is faulty and in some cases may be non-existent.

There is a systemic under-reporting that must be addressed immediately.

Divisions should be instructed to locate any outstanding Forms 3996 and submit them immediately for inclusion in the database.

Quarterly cross-referencing of CEW data downloads with the associated Form 3996 in the CEW database must occur.

For oversight and analysis purposes, the narrative portion of Form 3996 needs to be properly filled out and an effective way of analyzing that data must be identified and implemented.

CEW deployments in push stun mode are not adequately captured in Form 3996. Given the propensity for "usage creep," the RCMP must have a clearer means of monitoring this type of deployment.

The electronic version of Form 3996 should contain a drop-down list that captures the subject's behaviour category in addition to the already existing narrative section of the form.

The database does not specifically capture deployments in rural or remote settings.

The database cannot provide an in-depth quantitative and qualitative analysis of the narrative portion of Form 3996.

There should be the ability to link and/or cross-reference related Forms 3996.

To place CEW use in its proper context, it is useful to ask the following question: Is the RCMP using the device more often in police encounters now than it was when the weapon was first introduced to front-line members in late 2001?

Unfortunately, this question cannot be definitively answered by analyzing the database or factoring in other relevant information such as number of devices in the field, number of members trained, etc. The Commission knows that CEWs have been deployed or threatened to be deployed a minimum of 4234 times and that over the years the number of usage reports has increased. However, key information to answer this question, such as the exact number of members certified by Division at any one time, is not available. Without this information the Commission cannot establish patterns of deployment by year across all Divisions.

Despite this obvious limitation, the database does provide some valuable information that begins to paint a picture of CEW usage trends. A total of 4234 usage reports (Form 3996) were found, and the number of reports filed in the database has increased yearly. In terms of raw numbers, the Western provinces account for the bulk of CEW reports and together, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba contribute more than three quarters (78.3%) of all reports. This is not surprising as most RCMP members are posted in these provinces, and these Divisions have the greatest number of devices in the field.

CEW-related events occur predominantly in the evening hours, with over half of all report-generating events taking place between 8:00 pm and 4:00 am, and about one quarter of the reports generated on Friday and Saturday nights.

The number of members present at a scene is also significantly related to the use of the CEW. More precisely, the two increase together. When only one member is present, the CEW is deployed in 71.4% of incidents. However, when two (2) or more members attend, the rate of deployment goes up to between 79.1 and 87.7%. So, if more than one member is present, the likelihood that the CEW will be deployed is increased.

The vast majority of the subjects are male (90.2%) and are on average over 30 years of age. However, a notable number are above 50 years of age, and 90 reports exist where the subject is 16 years or younger. There are reports of CEWs being deployed against subjects as young as 13 years old.

Use of the CEW in push stun mode is more common than probe mode, and in a small but not trivial number of cases both modes are deployed. In one in five cases the CEW is not deployed, but deployment is threatened. However, based on the information in the database, it is not possible to determine whether the threatened deployment actually defused the situation.

When used in probe mode, it is rare that more than one (1) cartridge is fired and 66% of the time the weapon is cycled only once. Conversely, push stun is the mode more apt to be used multiple times. When push stun mode alone is used, it is used two or more times on 40% of occasions. This is significant and confirms a concern raised repeatedly by the Commission that push stun mode is the most susceptible usage subject to usage creep.

In this report, treatment at a medical facility is taken as a rough proxy for the perception by the member of seriousness of injury. While it is important to recognize that subjects are sometimes taken for medical examinations even though their injuries are not directly related to the use of a CEW, in general the narratives in the usage forms suggest that the medical examinations were related primarily to the CEW.

Three quarters of the reports indicate no injuries to the subject (68.6% in cases where the CEW was actually deployed). Where injuries or physical afflictions are recorded, they are generally described as "punctures" or "marks" produced by probes and "burns" associated with push stun mode.

Use of the CEW in probe mode, either alone (43.1%) or in conjunction with push stun mode (43.9%), brings a much higher likelihood of receiving a medical examination than push stun mode alone (16.0%). Furthermore, each successive use of the weapon, in probe or push stun modes, brings a greater likelihood of a medical examination.

Just as more members increase the likelihood of CEW deployment, so too does it raise the likelihood of receiving medical attention. When six (6) or more members are present, there is a 50/50 chance that the subject will be taken for a medical examination.

Suspected or confirmed substance use by the subject and the involvement of a weapon affect differently the probability that medical treatment is sought. The presence of weapons significantly increases the likelihood of a subject being taken to a medical facility. In contrast, the confirmation or suspicion of substance use serves to reduce the probability that a subject will be examined by a medical professional.

While missing data presented a severe analytic challenge, the data that was analyzed allowed the Commission to reasonably develop a profile of who is most likely to be subjected to a CEW deployment.

The subject is more likely to be:
A male who is unarmedBetween the ages of 20-39
Suspected of, or confirmed to be, using a substance, most likely alcohol
Aware of the presence of the CEW

The actual deployment of the CEW most likely:
Involves a cause disturbance or assault-related offence
Involves the presence of two (2) members who are Constables on general duty
Occurs between the hours of 8:00 pm and 4:00 am
Utilizes a M26 Taser® in push stun mode
In probe mode cycled once for five seconds
Involves no discernable injuries to the subject
Any injuries caused are puncture wounds; no photo will be taken and medical assistance will not be sought.

Subjects are more likely to receive medical attention if:
They are 50 years of age or older
They are female
They are suicidal or experiencing mental health crises
Weapons are involved;
However, if substance use is suspected, medical attention is less likely
The CEW is deployed in probe mode, alone or combined with push stun mode
Multiple members are present

In an attempt to confirm the robustness and accuracy of the RCMP CEW database, the Commission conducted a mini-audit comparing public complaints lodged with the Commission(2) versus the existence of a Form 3996. The purpose of this audit was to confirm whether a Form 3996 existed and could, subsequently, be correlated to all Commission lodged complaints related to CEW deployment and/or threatened deployment. To ensure precision, Commission staff and RCMP members jointly searched the CEW database at RCMP Headquarters in an attempt to resolve data anomalies. A total of 104 public complaints lodged with the Commission were identified: 76 related to CEW deployments and 28 related to threatened CEW deployments.

The results of the mini-audit were problematic, but aptly highlighted the Commission's concern about inadequate reporting practices. Of the 76 public complaints about CEW deployment, 52 (68%) of the corresponding Forms 3996 could not be located in the RCMP database. Of the 28 complaints where CEW deployment was threatened, none (0%) of the Forms 3996 could be found in the database.

These two findings confirm the Commission's belief that there has historically been extensive underreporting of CEW use, especially in cases where the weapon was threatened but not deployed. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that current and past RCMP CEW policies with respect to reporting have not been followed by members.

Drawing from examples of deployment parameters from other police services, the Commission is recommending that members must be faced with a situation that is combative/assaultive before they contemplate the use of the CEW. Until this behaviour category is displayed or threatened, it may be more prudent for the member to utilize other use of force options or, if possible, attempt tactical repositioning and/or engage in further dialogue. It is incumbent on the police officer to fully assess the situational factors and response options before acting. The Commission is not suggesting that members have to be assaulted before they can contemplate deploying the CEW.

While it is true that most police services across Canada tend to classify the CEW as an "intermediate device/weapon" and allow its use in the various forms of what is generally referred to as "resistant" behaviour, there are subtle but significant differences in the various operational policies that actually place caveats surrounding deployment that further restrict use.

The Toronto Police Service provides a good example of operational use and guidance around CEW use, and the Regina Police Service approach is one based on careful consideration of situational factors with efforts to minimize risk and injury to the subject. Similarly, the Edmonton Police Service is quite prescriptive in the situational caveats that allow and limit CEW use.

Canada is uniquely positioned to examine how fellow members of the Commonwealth have approached CEW use by their law enforcement services. Perhaps the best examples are the approaches taken in the U.K. and Northern Ireland, where officers are authorized to deploy CEWs when they are faced with incidents of serious violence or threats. While the U.K. has comprehensive policies governing the use of CEWs, recently police forces throughout the country have begun a field trial in which non-firearms officers have been trained in the use of CEWs with a view towards widening the weapon's use.

In 2003 during the initial field trial to assess the possible adoption of the CEW as a use of force option, U.K. police officers were instructed only to use the weapons when confronted with an armed suspect. Following consultation with various stakeholders and after assessing the results of the field trial, it was decided that CEW deployment would be acceptable on subjects whose behaviour posed a serious risk of violence but who may or may not possess a weapon.

This careful thought process is an example of what the Commission is advocating, adjusting the restriction for use after careful and thorough consultation and fact-based analysis.

No CEW deployment policies examined substantively touched on CEW deployments against at-risk groups. Given the apparently disproportionate number of people with substance or alcohol abuse issues who come into contact with the police and who have an increased statistical likelihood of becoming an in-custody death statistic, RCMP CEW deployment policy should require that a member must seek medical attention for an individual who has been subjected to a CEW deployment.

Taking into consideration the CEW policies of other Canadian and international police forces and the results of the quantitative analysis of the RCMP CEW database, the Commission feels that the RCMP CEW policy should include, at a minimum, the following:

Clear guidance on seeking medical treatment;

Use restricted to Constables who have a minimum of five (5) years of operational experience;

An appreciation of the operational realities faced by rural, remote and Northern detachments; and

A requirement that reporting include clear and concise descriptions of the deployment(s):

The circumstances of use;

The subject behaviour and if and how that behaviour changed over the course of the interaction; and

Situational factors that led to the member choosing the CEW over other force options.

Finally, overall RCMP CEW policy should focus less on the technical aspects of the weapon and more on the contextual issues surrounding deployments. Clearly, operational guidance in this area is needed.

To address the concerns identified throughout this Final Report, the Commission recommends, for immediate implementation, the following:

RECOMMENDATION 1: The RCMP immediately implement all of the Commission's Interim Report recommendations, in particular:

RECOMMENDATION #1 that the conducted energy weapon be classified as an "impact weapon" and use be allowed only in situations where an individual is "combative" or posing a risk of "death or grievous bodily harm" to the member, the individual or the general public.

RECOMMENDATION #2 that the conducted energy weapon be used on individuals appearing to be experiencing the condition(s) of excited delirium only when the behaviour is "combative" or posing a risk of "death or grievous bodily harm" to the member, the individual or the general public.

RECOMMENDATION 2: The RCMP immediately instruct its members who deploy a conducted energy weapon on a subject seek immediate medical attention for the subject in all circumstances.

RECOMMENDATION 3: The RCMP immediately implement clearer operational guidelines around conducted energy weapon use against "at-risk populations"(3) and in particular the role of emergency medical services post-weapon deployment.

RECOMMENDATION 4: The RCMP immediately direct, through policy and implement operational guidance, that the conducted energy weapon will be used only by the following members:

Corporals or above in urban(4) settings.

All members of specialized response teams(5) are exempt from this criterion.

Constables with at least five years of operational experience who are posted to detachments in rural(6) settings.

All members of specialized response teams are exempt from this criterion.

Any RCMP member who is currently trained and certified to use a conducted energy weapon who does not meet any of these criteria will be prohibited from using the weapon until the criterion is met.

Recommendation 5: The RCMP immediately modify reporting Form 3996 to include the capture and search capabilities, at a minimum, of the following information:

Description of the context surrounding weapon deployment;

Description of the subject's behaviour;

Identification of deployments in rural or urban detachments;

Specific indications of types of deployment: threatened, push-stun, probe, or a combination thereof;

Factors leading to the member's decision to deploy a CEW;

Electronic linking capabilities to capture related events and reports;

Member's articulation of factors leading to use of force choice(s);

Description of whether other use of force tools were utilized;

Articulation of how member safety was augmented by CEW use; and

Fulsome description of factors relevant to a multiple or prolonged application of the weapon and the member's rationale in support of such multiple or prolonged applications.

RECOMMENDATION 6: The RCMP immediately instruct all Divisions to conduct a comprehensive review of conducted energy weapon use, identify all outstanding Form 3996 reports and immediately submit all reports to the national database.

RECOMMENDATION 7: The RCMP immediately establish Use of Force Coordinators in all Divisions reporting to the National Use of Force Coordinator. All Divisional Use of Force Coordinators will immediately:

Enforce the requirement that Form 3996 be completed and submitted as per operational requirement by the end of each shift where the conducted energy weapon was used;
Enforce appropriate administrative disciplinary measures for members who under-report use of the weapon or who do not report use;

Identify members who have engaged in multiple or prolonged applications of the weapon, and determine the circumstances and reasons for such use and report this to appropriate professional standards units and RCMP Headquarters; and

Review, verify and approve all Form 3996 submissions in their Division prior to final submission to the national database.

RECOMMENDATION 8: The National Use of Force Coordinator must hold the rank of a Commissioned Officer in order to ensure national implementation of policies and procedures and to implement institutional behavioural change. Divisional Use of Force Coordinators must report to the National Use of Force Coordinator.

RECOMMENDATION 9: The RCMP immediately direct through policy that Divisional and national professional standards units and training coordinators receive carbon copies of all Form 3996 submissions sent to the national database.

RECOMMENDATION 10: The RCMP immediately implement a requirement that the Learning and Development Services group receive all reporting Form 3996 submissions where the subject is considered to be part of an "at risk group", to ensure:

Relevancy of training and training standards; and

Proper modification of training programs.

RECOMMENDATION 11: The RCMP publicly release the requested Quarterly and Annual Reports concerning the RCMP's use of the conducted energy weapon.

RECOMMENDATION 12: The RCMP provide the Commission unvetted copies of all Forms 3996 on a monthly basis for a period of three years, commencing January 1, 2008, so that the Commission can provide a comprehensive yearly assessment of conducted energy weapon use by the RCMP.

As stated in the Interim Report, the Commission is not calling for an immediate moratorium on CEW use. Having said that, if the RCMP fails to immediately implement all of the recommendations made by the Commission, then it is conceivable that the problems of CEW deployments currently being raised will continue. The recommendations in both reports have been made to hold the RCMP publicly accountable for the use of a weapon that causes the Canadian public apprehension and to control usage creep. The Commission's belief that the CEW has a place in the RCMP's arsenal is conditional on acceptance and implementation of the recommendations contained in this report. Simply put, if the RCMP cannot account for the use of this weapon and properly instruct its members to appropriately deploy the CEW in an operational setting, then such use should be prohibited until proper and strict accountability and training measures can be fully implemented.

Paul E. Kennedy
Chair, Commission for Public Complaints
Against the RCMP


1 It should be noted that "excited delirium" is not a condition that has universal acceptance within the medical community.

2 It is important to recognize that the mere existence of a complaint does not automatically confirm a CEW deployment. Some complaints are later deemed vexatious or false.

3 At-risk populations include, but are not limited to, people with mental health issues, substance abuse problems, the homeless, and other persons from marginalized groups.

4 Urban setting is defined as a population of 5000 residents or more.

5 Specialized response teams include Emergency Response Teams (ERTs), Tactical Troops, Containment Teams and High Risk Entry Teams.

6 Rural setting is defined as a population less than 5000 residents.

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