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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Police chief disagrees with Taser decision

July 29, 2008
MATTHEW GAUK, The Prince Albert Daily Herald

A provincial police chiefs' association is at odds with the Saskatchewan Police Commission over its recent decision against rolling out Tasers to municipal forces.

The commission announced last week that they were rescinding a motion to expand usage of conducted energy weapons, commonly referred to as Tasers. While many SWAT teams have access to the "non-lethal" weapons, most officers do not.

"Not having the ability to use a Taser ... the next level of deployment to protect a citizen or officer could actually be a firearm," said Dale McFee, City Police Chief and the president of the Saskatchewan Association of Chiefs of Police.

McFee said reviews are always done any time an officer uses force, be it with a gun, baton or pepper spray. This means they're accountable for their actions, and a Taser would be no different, he believes.

He said the use of force is "not something we take lightly."

"To my knowledge I do not know of any reports that have come out to say that the Taser was directly the (cause) of death," McFee said. "There are always contributing circumstances."

Police agencies across the province submitted their guidelines on use of force to the commission before its decision.

City Coun. Greg Dionne sits on the Prince Albert police board, which vetted the policy sent by City Police. He would have preferred the commission sit on the issue for a while longer until findings from various investigations into Tasers were published.

"I'm always concerned when we don't give the men and women of the police service the equipment to carry out their jobs," Dionne said. "Unfortunately, violent crime is up in all categories and that's just a sign of the times. The devices are also there to protect citizens and not just police."

Dionne thinks the decision went against the use of Tasers because of the recent high-profile cases of Taser-related deaths, including the Winnipeg teen who died last week.

But he also pointed out that recent shooting deaths by police have occurred in Prince Albert and Saskatoon, both cities without Taser-equipped police forces. Families will be wondering why the officers didn't have the devices, he said.

"If accountability is what they're looking for, it'd be easy to be reach," Dionne said, mentioning camera accessories sold for Tasers that would record each use by an officer.

McFee pointed out that the commission's decision was a tough one to make and that the police chiefs' association and City Police will respect that choice.

"At the end of the day, the provincial police perspective is that we all want the same thing - the safety of the officers and citizens," McFee said.

However, both McFee and Dionne hope to see the commission revisiting the issue in the future.

Dionne, as president of the Canadian Association of Police Boards, also said his organization will strike a committee on Taser use at a conference next month, which will result in a unified national position on the issue.

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