August 15, 2008
Globe and Mail
If anyone still needs a reason why the police can't be trusted to be objective about the safety of tasers, consider that the manufacturer of the electric stun gun is a major financial backer of a Canadian police chiefs conference this month. Taser International is a platinum sponsor, which means it gave $25,000. Banners will praise its name. Delegate kits will sing of its wonders.
Imagine that Health Canada were to hold a conference sponsored by the manufacturer of a controversial drug currently under review. There would be outrage. How could the body that reviews drug safety accept money from drug manufacturers? It would not be done.
Yet that is similar to what the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police is doing. It is currently reviewing taser safety. If that review concludes that tasers are more dangerous than previously thought, police forces across Canada would have no choice but to make drastic changes to their taser policies. At the moment, those policies generally allow police to use tasers even where no major threat of physical harm exists. The policies couldn't exist in their present form if the police accepted that tasers can kill people. In spite of the 22 deaths in the past five years in Canada that followed police taser use, police forces still teach their members that tasers don't kill. (That teaching, in the face of those deaths, is reason enough not to trust the police to be objective about tasers.)
The coziness between Taser International and the police stinks. One of the authors of a 2005 study on tasers by the Canadian Police Research Centre (the research arm of the police chiefs) was Sergeant Darren Laur of the Victoria Police, who had received several payments from Taser International since 1999, including stock options for a holstering system he helped design for the taser. And over at least the past five years, the company has been a sponsor of many police chiefs' conferences, and contributed an estimated $100,000, according to Peter Cuthbert, the association's executive director. This relationship fuels public cynicism about the police.
Mr. Cuthbert doesn't deny that the public believes police are in a conflict of interest. "Oh, there's a perception there," he says. But "nobody says you have to buy that product from them."
This conflict of interest is not only perceived; it's real and direct. While the police chiefs don't directly determine policy for individual chiefs or police forces, and have no power to impose their views on anyone, in practice their research provides the foundation for taser policies around Canada.
That foundation has been fatally eroded. The police chiefs' blatant coziness with the manufacturer of the electric stun guns makes clear that elected representatives and other civilian authorities, and not the police themselves, need to redraw taser-use policies around the country.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Friday, August 15, 2008
August 15, 2008