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Friday, September 19, 2008

Police open up about Taser use

September 19, 2008
Michele Henry, Toronto Star

Tasers electrified yet another debate yesterday as the Toronto Police Services Board revealed a new template for reporting its use of the device to the public.

Starting next year the annual police report on Tasers – the service now refers to the devices exclusively as conducted energy weapons – will include more information than it has in the past.

"We recognize that the public has a need and a right to be informed about all our use of force options," Chief Bill Blair said yesterday.

Information about the incident that led to the Tasering, how much electricity it delivered, any injuries that result, how the subject behaved and whether it was effective or not are just some of the details to be included in the new document.

But despite efforts at openness, outside groups asked Blair to consider adding the age and gender of the person Tasered. And Graeme Norton, of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, urged the board to consider subjecting the report – and raw information used to create it – to independent scrutiny.

"That will give us a better picture of how Tasers are used," he said, in a deputation before the board yesterday. "It will provide a more thorough and robust description ...of what's happening here."

Blair said he will look into whether gender and age are available with each incident. If they are, he said, he doesn't have a problem including them. In response to independent scrutiny, Blair said there are mechanisms in place that provide that function, such as the Special Investigations Unit and the courts.

Blair is hoping to equip about 3,000 front-line officers with the electroshock devices. Right now, they are only found in the holsters of about 400 front-line sergeants and the Emergency Task Force.

A City of Toronto Executive Committee submitted a letter to the board yesterday informing them that the city is considering holding public consultations about Taser use and is collecting its own information on the devices and how they are used locally and worldwide.

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