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Saturday, November 08, 2008

EDITORIAL: Limit taser use to most-dangerous situations

November 8, 2008
Doug Millroy, Sault Star

I have held off commenting on the controversy that for some time has been swirling around the use of Taser stun guns by police and RCMP because I wasn't totally sure of where I stood on the issue.

On one hand, I see the police and RCMP as the people we count on to keep us safe, even to the point where it means laying down their lives for us. So surely it is incumbent on us to provide and allow them the use of the best equipment available.

However, on the other hand, even while seeing the merits of the Taser as a police tool, I find myself unable to fully escape the nagging thought that something has been going wrong, very wrong.

While there have been many occasions were police officers did lay down their lives for us, seemingly some members of the public, too many, in fact, are now dying at their hands either through their use of the Taser or something caused by the use of the Taser.

Alberta Solicitor General Fred Lindsay, obviously attempting to downplay the role a Taser played in the death of an Edmonton man in late October, was quoted in a Canadian Press story as saying there's no proof Tasers have caused any deaths.

He said there is plenty of evidence, however, to suggest that they have prevented people from being killed.

"What I will say is the Taser is an effective tool and it's an alternate tool to lethal force," said Lindsay. "In over 2,000 cases where it's been used in this country, it's actually saved people's lives."

That may indeed be the case, but it would have been nice if he had trotted out a few examples so we would be able to compare the number of lives saved with the number that have been lost among those who have been hit with a Taser.

More than 20 people have died in Canada after being shot with Tasers.

In the United States, when CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews first started looking into police use of the Taser stun gun a year ago, the weapon had been connected to more than 40 deaths.

Recently CBS News updated that count, now saying 70 people have died after being zapped by a Taser, including 10 in August alone.

Of course, Taser International, the U. S. company that makes the stun gun, insists that none of the deaths was the Taser's fault, that the weapon simply lacks the power to kill or injure. It maintains tests on dogs and pigs proved the latter.

The use of a Taser on the individuals who died may not have directly caused their deaths but if it didn't, then it obviously triggered something that did. That in itself is worrisome.

But beyond that, although it is certainly possible that some of the "victims" may have died without the Taser, we are left with the preposterous thought, if we extrapolate the company line, that within a very short time all these people would have dropped dead on their own.

The Taser gun shoots two barbed hooks into the body, bringing 50 thousand volts. The idea behind this is that the suspect will go down, most of the time, at least, and therefore police won't have to use their lethal revolvers.

"You can use it before you would have to use the revolver," Rick Smith, CEO of Taser International, told CBS news. "If you have someone who has a knife, who is threatening other people but isn't quite at the level where you'd use lethal force, you'd pre-empt with the Taser, get them safely under control before it escalates."

Andrews said that technically the company may be right when it says the Taser has never caused a death. However, he said, he also discovered that since 2000, five different medical examiners in the U. S. have listed the stun gun or the Taser specifically as a factor in someone's death.

Dr. Roland Kohr, Indiana regional medical examiner, called a death in his state "the straw that broke the camel's back."

Speaking to the death of James Borden who, while high on drugs was stunned six times by an officer and died on an Indiana jailhouse floor, Kohr said Taser is overlooking the stress that multiple shots from the weapon can cause, especially to someone high on drugs.

"The application of the Taser was the trigger factor or the stressful event that caused the elevation of blood pressure, the elevation of heart rate, which stressed an already damaged heart to the point that it went into cardiac arrest," Kohr said, ruling the a Taser was a factor in Borden's death.

This could fall in line with what Lindsay was saying about the death of the man in Edmonton.

The Alberta solicitor general, referring to the case of Trevor Grimolson who died after being zapped by a Taser by police as he ran amok in an Edmonton pawn shop, said a condition known as excited delirium may be responsible for the deaths rather than the Taser itself.

I find that a stretch, but if it is indeed the case, one has to ask, would it have occurred without the Taser?

Premier Ed Stelmach noted that Lindsay himself was jolted with a Taser during a demonstration earlier this year.

"The minister is standing. He got zapped by a Taser and he's alive," he said.

That, of course, is an idiotic statement. A lot of people who have been zapped by a Taser are alive. The problem is, if he would look at the situation seriously, is that "some" people seem to be dying directly as the result of Taser zapping or an offshoot of it.

One of the most famous cases in Canada was the a Taser by RCMP of Robert Dziekanski, who died after being zapped by a Taser in Vancouver International Airport in October 2007.

The a Taser of Dziekanski, which some claim was not warranted because he seemed more distraught and disoriented than violent, has been likened in some quarters to the violent clubbing of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers.

Police across the country continue to use the Taser but Michael Tochor, chairman of the Saskatchewan Police Commission, said there hasn't been a national policy set out that will allow the appropriate use of Tasers, yet prevent abuses of Tasers.

"When do you use a Taser? Do you use it because a 16-year-old girl in Manitoba isn't doing what the police are telling her to do?" he asked in reference to the girl who said she was zapped by a stun gun three times while in an RCMP holding cell in Selkirk, Man. "Or do you use it when someone is swinging a sword at you?"

The answer is probably somewhere in between but I think Saskatchewan already has the answer. It allows only police tactical teams to employ the use of Tasers.

As these are the people employed in the most dangerous situations, I believe this is the way to go. Because as it stands in the rest of the country, too many deaths are occurring.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Premier Ed Stelmach noted that Lindsay himself was jolted with a Taser during a demonstration earlier this year."

Such demo taser hits are ALWAYS done to the back or leg, NEVER to the chest.

Why? To protect the eyes? Put on a face shield and turn around.

The real reason is to generate a false sense of safety.

In other words: FAKE. Cheap stage trick. Honestly, you'd have to be asleep not to notice this bait-and-switch.