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Friday, September 12, 2008

Taser report criticizes RCMP research

September 12, 2008
Mike Barber, Canwest News Service

An independent review of the RCMP's Taser policy released Friday levelled criticisms at the police force's research into the weapon before issuing them to officers.

The report, authored by Ottawa criminologist John Kiedrowski, was ordered by RCMP commissioner Bill Elliott in response to a spate of deaths related to incidents involving the electric stun gun.

The controversy over the conducted energy weapons peaked last year when Robert Dziekanski, a Polish national, died after being subdued by RCMP officers using Tasers when he became hysterical upon his arrival at Vancouver International Airport.

John Kiedrowski concluded that the RCMP should have sought the 'assistance of trained research and policy analysts' in addition to the tests they and some other police services completed with Tasers in the late 1990s.

One of the main criticisms was an "over-reliance on information supplied by the manufacturer." RCMP officers "were not routinely completing the required reports" needed when the weapon was used to determine if they were used effectively.

Furthermore, the report said there has not been a review of the weapon since being first adopted by the RCMP in 2001.

Kiedrowski concluded that the RCMP should have sought the "assistance of trained research and policy analysts" in addition to tests they and some other police services completed in the late 1990s.

The criminologist noted that no national medical or mental health associations were consulted in the initial testing, and that many of the reports used by the RCMP in vetting the weapon were not peer-reviewed.

"Many of the resulting problems in the RCMP policy-development process might have been avoided had the RCMP used its own internal research and evaluation branch to seek out independent researchers to conduct studies that could detect and take into account any potential police and manufacturer biases," the report said.

Tasers have been linked to 22 deaths in Canada. The Kiedrowski report noted that there are no national standards in place for the proper use of the weapons, but that police across the country could benefit from them.

The training manual used by RCMP officers was also criticized. The report said that there is no causal link between Taser application and death, factors such as a subject's "size and body weight, existence of various medical conditions, acute psychosis, ingestion of drugs, and prolonged acute stress" could increase the risk of harm. These factors had not been clearly covered in previous training and operation manuals.

Likewise, the report said the RCMP's challenge statement issued before using a Taser - "Police, stop or you will be hit with 50,000 volts of electricity!" - should be reviewed.

The report was completed on June 5, but was only released publicly this week.

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