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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

RCMP complaints commissioner vows to 'hold feet to the fire' on tasers

June 25, 2008
The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER — The commissioner for complaints against the RCMP says he's trying to "create enough heat publicly" to force the national police agency to change the way it uses Tasers.

Paul Kennedy, chairman of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, appeared before a B.C. public inquiry on the use of Tasers on Wednesday. Last week, Kennedy issued a scathing report on use of the shock weapons by the force.

He conceded outside the inquiry that none of his recent recommendations have to be implemented but he said it's his job to pressure the force to co-operate.
"Part of what I have to do is create enough heat publicly . . . to say, 'Look, this is what we want.' That's the bottom line," Kennedy told reporters.

Kennedy pointed out that the national police force has 3,000 Tasers at its disposal across the country. In addition, they have many new recruits, a high turnover rate, an inadequate mentoring system, he said. And he said they don't have a system in place to monitor use of the weapons. "I'm hoping that if they look at that they'll realize, 'Whoops, we have a problem here. We didn't think it was being used in these kind of circumstances,"' he said.

RCMP have started to implement some recommendations, including appointing a national use-of-force co-ordinator, but overall Kennedy expressed dissatisfaction. "They have modestly implemented some," he said.

He said each division should have a use-of-force co-ordinator and there should be a national co-ordinator who is a commissioned officer.

"I'm trying to hold their feet to the fire. I'm giving them a model," Kennedy said of the report issued earlier this month.

The report echoed his interim call to limit Tasers to clashes where suspects are combative or risk serious harm to themselves, the police or the public. In the 78-page report, Kennedy urged tighter controls on a weapon the Mounties have drawn from their holsters more than 4,000 times since its introduction in 2001.

In his presentation to inquiry commissioner Thomas Braidwood, Kennedy decried the situation where the RCMP decides how to deploy the Taser and also decides what data it's going to release on its use.

Like others who have appeared, Kennedy said the Taser is being used in situations where it was never intended - known as "usage creep."

Earlier in the day, B.C.'s police complaint commissioner said he - like Kennedy - doesn't advocate a moratorium on the use of Tasers. But they have become a "tool of convenience" and more testing, study and training is required.

"Unfortunately, the Taser has become a tool of convenience in some situations, sort of a 'Come along' device; 'drop the beer. No? Zap,"' Dirk Ryneveld told the inquiry. "In essence, it's being used in situations far short of an alternative to lethal force." He said the Taser's use should be restricted to situations when people pose a threat to the public, an officer or themselves.

Ryneveld, who investigated the death of Robert Wayne Bagnell, 44, after he was subdued with a Vancouver city police Taser in June 2004, said issues about the shock weapon were raised then and still haven't been resolved. He said a report issued in the wake of Bagnell's death called for uniform training in the use of Tasers by police across the province.

Ryneveld said further study, independent testing and training is urgently needed. "Unfortunately, the issues we raised then are still unresolved and true independent study and testing hasn't been as actively or as timely pursued as I would have hoped," he told the inquiry.

The B.C. public inquiry was called in the wake of the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski after he was hit with an RCMP Taser at Vancouver International Airport last October. The inquiry has been so overwhelmed with requests from people wanting to appear that it scheduled the additional day for submissions on Wednesday.

A report on the first phase of the inquiry, which is looking at the general use of Tasers by law enforcement in the province, is expected this fall. A second phase of the inquiry will look specifically at Dziekanski's death.

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