November 22, 2008
Phil Couvrette, Canwest News Service
Police departments across the country will be looking on as Quebec conducts tests to determine whether a camera-equipped version of the controversial Taser stun gun is suitable for its police forces and provides greater accountability.
But critics of the device, which discharges 50,000 volts when fired, say adopting such a model, which both records video and sound when it is triggered, will not eliminate their concerns about its use.
In late October, a subcommittee of Quebec's Public Security Department obtained the go-ahead to conduct studies and tests on the camera-equipped electroshock weapon, according to Andree Dore of Quebec's Ecole Nationale de Police.
The decision followed the recommendations of a Quebec coroner who concluded police forces should videotape the use of such devices.
Coroner Catherine Rudel-Tessier was at the time submitting a report on the death of Quilem Registre, who died four days after being struck by Taser on Oct. 18, 2007. The coroner said although the weapon was not directly responsible for the death, the fact the intoxicated Registre had received six discharges in 53 seconds during his arrest may have contributed to his deteriorating condition.
In all, over 20 people have died shortly after being shocked by the weapon in recent years in Canada, prompting groups such as Amnesty International to call for use of the device to be suspended. Most of those deaths occurred within hours of the Taser incident.
Camera-equipped versions would "provide enhanced accountability for law enforcement officers and the communities they serve," said Steve Tuttle of Taser Inc., who stresses no death has ever been directly linked to the device.
Tuttle noted a 2006 International Association of Chiefs of Police report "showed statistical data indicates that 96.2 per cent of the time, the recording of the event exonerated the officer of the allegation or complaint."
He said the camera-equipped version, which was launched in August 2006, was available to 1,871 law enforcement agencies as of March this year.
But this greater accountability doesn't go far enough, according to Amnesty International.
"It's helpful to have new accountability measures - it certainly doesn't hurt to have them. But in terms of addressing our main concern, it certainly doesn't," said spokeswoman Hilary Holmes. "This is a device that was deployed prior to enough independent study to really be able to assess, 'Is this a reasonable risk?' Particularly with vulnerable groups, there needs to be more study in order to make that assessment."
In the meantime, Amnesty wants use of the weapon suspended or, failing that, brought to "highly restricted use." By Amnesty's count, 25 deaths have occurred in Canada following the use of a Taser since the introduction of the device.
Videotape of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski being shocked by a Taser at the Vancouver airport in October 2007 was broadly distributed. That tape, showing RCMP officers using a Taser on the agitated man, who spoke no English, and then pinning him to the ground, drew outrage from around the world.
Dziekanski's was perhaps the highest-profile death in Canada following the use of the device.
Some police forces do see an advantage in obtaining the camera-equipped version of the Taser. Such a device "would be interesting because it enables light to be immediately shed on events during the intervention," said Marc Parent of Montreal Police.
Other forces, such as Vancouver's, have considered camera-equipped devices, but decided not to add them to their arsenal. "The VPD does not currently use Taser cameras. Our Force Options Section has studied the information, and the cameras do not meet our needs at this time," wrote Const. Jana McGuinness in an e-mail.
The Calgary Police Service has also looked into the device, but have yet to implement its use, said Darren Leggatt, who looks after use-of-force training for the department. "We're certainly looking to explore new and different things . . . a variety of different products," he said.
The Ontario Provincial Police says it doesn't use the camera-equipped model, but notes provincial regulations require that all uses of force, including the Taser, be documented.
The RCMP did not respond to requests for information on whether it uses or has considered using the device.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Saturday, November 22, 2008
November 22, 2008