You may have arrived here via a direct link to a specific post. To see the most recent posts, click HERE.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

EDITORIAL: Keep politicans away from taser guidelines

Here is the DISTORTED LOGIC I am up against in my own city - the old, dusty "tasers are better than guns" argument. Today's editorial in the Belleville Intelligencer clearly shows how poorly educated the editorial staff are on this subject.

Quite coincidentally, just a couple of weeks ago, I briefly met the Intelligencer's new Editor, Bill Glisky, at a local business mixer. I followed up a few days later with an e-mail to him, to introduce him to my alter-ego (Truth not tasers) and to invite him to get together with me to talk "tasers".

I guess this is his way of saying "no thanks - our narrow minds are made up. Tasers are ... better than guns."

Today, I'm embarrassed to be a citizen of the city of Belleville.

To read some more reasoned and intelligent editorials, see, for example:

Toronto Star: Police stun guns need a high bar

Globe and Mail: Dangerously blank slates

Vancouver Sun: Police agencies wrong to shoot the messenger

February 26, 2009

Benjamin Franklin once quipped, "In this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes." To this list, we would like to add two more certainties: that given a choice, getting hit by a Taser is better than getting shot and given a choice we are better off having police decide such issues than politicians.

An inquiry is currently under way in the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, who was stunned by a Taser at Vancouver's airport and died.

In part due to the outcry from this inquiry, Canada's main police associations have launched a vigourous defence of Tasers and declared that every officer should be authorized to carry one.

The Canadian Police Association and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police held a news conference Tuesday to outline a 13-point position paper on conducted energy weapons.

They spent almost the whole event defending the devices, and lashed out at claims they're potentially deadly. They cited two cases where Tasers might have stopped people from killing themselves.

To their credit, the police also acknowledged that Tasers had been used too often. And they conceded that the weapon has been used in cases where suspects presented no threat.

"Everybody is basically coming around to the point where they've agreed that there has to be some active resistance on people's behalf," said Tom Kaye, vice-president of the association of police chiefs.

"It's got to be some kind of assaultive, combative behaviour. There's got to be some threat to the officers or some threat to the public ... I'm not saying that's always been the case."

To help officers use the weapons more responsibly, the associations are calling for better training and for government-mandated guidelines on Taser use, training, and transparent reporting.

The police associations' guidelines dovetail with a new RCMP policy announced this month that Tasers should only be used in cases involving threats to officers or public safety. The new rules clearly set out that Mounties can't zap suspects for simple resistance or refusing to co-operate.

That makes sense to us, as does the call for better training and clear guidelines on how to use Tasers.

What doesn't makes sense are opposition critics suggesting a national review to establish guidelines before more police get Tasers. Those critics seem to be ignorant of the alternatives here -- which in too many cases is a police officer risking his own life or having to draw his gun to deal with a situation.

As bad as Tasers might be -- and clearly their use can have serious consequences -- they are still many, many times safer than guns.

Given a choice between a officer feeling the need to draw his gun and that same officer instead being able to draw his Taser, we will take the Taser every time.

Amnesty International has decried an information vacuum surrounding Tasers and wants their use limited until it sees satisfactory studies on their potential impact.

The problem is we know the potential impact of the alternative and we don't think that alternative is acceptable.

Nor do we think it acceptable for people sitting comfortably in government offices to be making decisions that can put police officers lives at risk.

The police know what they are doing -- their willingness to adjust their policies on Taser use shows that. Politicians should butt out and let them go about doing it.

My response:

Government should set standards for use of Tasers
Re: Keep politicians away from Taser guidelines (Feb. 26)

For years, I have advocated for needed changes to the way Tasers are used in Canada, after my brother was Tasered and died in 2004. In addition to maintaining a website which is sourced daily by police, government, media and ordinary people worldwide, I have also -- by invitation -- spoken to a House of Commons committee and various media on the subject.

At a time when not only our media but Canadians in general appear mostly unanimous in their condemnation of the egregious overuse and abuse of Tasers in this country, the editor chose to drag out the crusty old "Tasers are better than guns" argument.

That argument is so 10 years ago, when Tasers were initially approved for use in Canada as an alternative to lethal force.

However, in the intervening years, our police have loosened their policies to the point where today, Tasers are used not as an alternative to lethal force, but as an unpredictable weapon of mass convenience, used in a vast majority of cases where lethal force would never be considered.

When did certain death by bullet or potential death by Taser become our only two choices?

In mid-February, the RCMP finally admitted Tasers do carry a risk of death and announced the federal police force has tightened its policies.

Little more than a week later, while announcing a joint Taser report from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the Canadian Police Association, police conceded the weapons have been incorrectly used, but proceeded to attack the weapon's critics.

What we are left with is a palpable credibility gap and a disconnect between what Canadians want and what police would impose.

That is why now is precisely the right time for government to step in and mop up this mess. The need for stringent nationwide policies and oversight measures has never been so great.

Police officers do have a difficult job and they deserve nothing less than clear, unequivocal guidelines.

You opened your editorial with a quote from Benjamin Franklin about the certainty of death and taxes, and so I close with another quote from Franklin: "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."


Excited-Delirium.com said...

To the editor of the Belleville Stupiditer:

...and here's yer badge:


Tasers replace something other than guns about 99% of the time. This figure may vary by locality and with time. But you'd have to be a complete moron not to notice that the vast majority of taser incidents have nothing to do with a situation where police gun-fire would be permitted.

Anonymous said...

I, too, am VERY embarassed to be a citizen of this town after reading that editorial - Small, uneducated minds, from people who don't do their research and actually look at the impact that Taser use has on people and their families. People are dying, families are being left in shatters.

I recently heard a story from a local young man (also in the great town of Belleville)- he was dragged naked out of the shower, soaking wet, and very obviously unarmed and then tasered by the Belleville Police. He was obviously not carring a weapon, or was being a nuisance or threat to anyone at that moment.

Whatever happened to Citizen Rights and Protection?? Damn right the politicians need to be involved!