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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Officials slam taser verdict

July 31, 2008
Heather Polischuk, The Regina Leader-Post

Although they will respect a Friday decision by the Saskatchewan Police Commission to limit the use of conducted energy devices (CEDs) within municipal police forces, Regina's mayor and police chief say they are not necessarily pleased.

The topic came up during Wednesday's meeting of the Regina Board of Police Commissioners. Regina Police Service Chief Troy Hagen and Mayor Pat Fiacco said they hope the SPC will continue to educate itself about CEDs -- commonly known as Tasers -- with a view to the possibility of further CED deployment in the future.

"Sometimes Tasering is going to save someone's life as opposed to killing someone ...," Fiacco said following the meeting. "What we don't want to do is put our police in a situation that the only resort that they have is a gun."

Hagen said the RPS, like the Saskatchewan Association of Police Chiefs, supports "any further use of force options that may be available to our police officers, rather than having to use our service revolver. In principle, we support any devices or any training that will enhance and lessen the risks to the suspects that we're confronting.

"So initially, obviously, the (SAPC) would have preferred that we would have had an expanded deployment of Tasers to frontline personnel, insuring that there were appropriate levels of training and reporting and accountability measures built into the policies that may have been contemplated. However, the Saskatchewan Police Commission has concluded that at this time they're not in favour of further deployment of the CEDs ... We certainly respect the commission's decision."

Late last year, the Regina Police Service shelved plans to make CEDs available to all officers by the end of 2008. Instead, the devices are now only available to SWAT members for use in tactical situations.

While Taser use has been linked to deaths in several jurisdictions across Canada -- including Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski -- Regina has not been one of them. According to statistics referred to at the meeting, CEDs were deployed 11 times by the RPS in 2006 and 21 times in 2007 (once Tasers were made more widely available to members). Due to limiting their use, Tasers have not been used by Regina police in 2008.

In coming to its decision, the SPC referred to controversy that ignited over Taser-related deaths as well as a lack of adequate information on the full consequences of CED use.

Fiacco said he hopes the SPC will look into bringing in a medical professional to explain exactly what happens when a person dies after being Tasered. The mayor said he heard such an explanation last year in Calgary, during which a medical expert noted something called excited delirium caused death in some who were Tasered, rather than the Tasering itself.

"In some cases, unfortunately, it was as a result of mental issues with the individual," Fiacco said. "In other cases, it was because they were under the influence of narcotics that put them in this state ... I'm hoping that we can investigate this even further to make sure that the right decision at the end is going to be made."

The commission also looked at June's crime statistics, which showed a significant year-over-year decline in robberies and break-and-enters. Mischief and willful damage increased as did auto theft. Hagen said members of the auto theft strategy committee will meet to look at that issue.

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