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Friday, February 27, 2009

Dude, don't Tase me for this one

Well, it's nice to see that someone at The Belleville Intelligencer is making a little more sense today than the editor was yesterday. I must say, though, that yesterday's editorial and today's viewpoint from City Editor Chris Malette makes the paper appear more than a little schizophrenic. Can they really have it both ways?

February 27, 2009
City Editor, The Intelligencer

Not sure about you, but I always thought Mounties were a rough and ready bunch who always got their man -- not some bunch of two-bit rent-a-cops who Taser some poor schmuck to death so they can get back to their Tim's before it cools.

A simple request -- for any of my cop pals, cops who don't know me and would rather see me Tasered or any cop who may pull me over in the next little bit, please don't take any of this personally. I get along pretty well with most coppers, but this Taser business has still got me stumped.

I've followed coverage of the public inquiry into the 2007 death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver airport and have determined the four hapless Mounties had better not represent standard operating procedure for Tasering someone. If a few seconds of shouted commands prompts a dose of buzz juice from a ray gun, someone has to rewrite the manual.

I had a cop friend explain how you have split seconds to decide to deploy the Taser. Some are quicker than others to use it, he said. But think about the training these coppers have -- they are given instructions on how to do a quick mental checklist of the perp's behaviour before they use any manner of restraint or submission methods at their disposal.

Of course, the 9 mm deterrent is the biggie, but every-one's pretty much in agreement we don't draw on or shoot at suspects like the blue-suited pistoleros in the lower 48. But we sure have taken a shine to their handheld bug zappers, eh?

In the Dziekanski case, last December, Crown prosecutors announced that the use of force in this case was "reasonable in the circumstances" and that none of the officers would face criminal charges.

The four cops in this case gave non-English-speaking Dziekanski a few seconds to obey their English commands and when he didn't comply, they stunned him like a slaughterhouse veal calf. Swell.

One of the Mounties, Const. Gerry Rundel, said at the time, Tasers were considered safe and were on the lower end of the use-of-force guidelines, below pepper spray and batons.

He told the inquiry that he and his three fellow horsemen were called from their dinner break to deal with the unruly Polish traveller -- who'd been in transit for more than a day and trapped at the airport, confused as hell, for more than 10 hours -- and that, when Dziekanski became agitated, they felt "threatened" and feared for their safety.

Apparently, the big Pole picked up a stapler. Yes, a stapler. You know, the classic weapon of movie thugs everywhere -- a Bostich model A-200 Cop Whacker.

'Tase him, he's got office supplies!'

Crikey. It'd be laughable if it wasn't so damned tragic.

Here's a suggested game plan for this incident -- calm him down after determining if someone could communicate with him and, after the four officers working together couldn't calm him, bull rush the guy, bring him to ground, cuff him and then see if he's a little more compliant? Was that considered in this case? Nah.

Tase the guy -- not once, but twice -- and then stand around with your faces hanging out for, oh, nine or 10 minutes before medical help arrives?

The Canadian Police Association and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police came out in defence of Tasers Tuesday, declaring that every officer in the country should be authorized to carry one.

But the top cops also admitted that officers have used Tasers too often, stunned peaceful suspects, and not been transparent enough in reporting how they've used the weapon.

This all comes at an unfortunate coincidence of the trail of a Saskatchewan man into the murders of RCMP constables Robin Cameron and Marc Bourdages and the attempted murder of Const. Michelle Knopp.

No one denies cops have a tough job, have to make life and death decisions on occasion and have a variety of tools at their disposal.

But, in this case, the Mounties chose the easy, hassle-free way to bring an unruly man to heel and it cost a stranger from a strange land his life.

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