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Friday, February 27, 2009

EDITORIAL: No time to expand Taser use

February 27, 2009
Times Colonist

A credibility gap is growing over Taser stun guns -- the police tool that has been linked to the deaths of more than 20 people in Canada.

Police say Tasers are safe and Canada's two main police organizations want all officers countrywide to be authorized and trained to use the weapons.

We're not that confident. As more information is revealed at the inquiry into the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport in 2007, it is becoming more difficult for police to justify their current use of the shock devices.

Tasers have become the guilt-free weapon of choice in the police arsenal. Officers continue to insist that the stun guns cause no lasting harm.

The Canadian Police Association insists Tasers save lives -- and they do, to a point. If an angry, armed person can be taken down with a Taser rather than a gun, or an officer can defend himself from an attacker by using a Taser, lives are saved.

Officers put themselves at risk every day, working to defuse dangerous situations. They deserve our support and should have all the tools that could make their work safer and easier.

But police have responsibilities as well -- and one of the most important is that they not use excessive force. They need to assess every situation independently and decide on the appropriate measures. It's not a matter of reaching for the Taser just because they can, and asking questions later. Officers should use their Tasers only when that level of force is needed.

That did not happen in the Dziekanski incident. Four police officers made no attempt to subdue a single individual who could not speak English and who was armed with nothing more than a stapler. Within seconds of arrival they zapped him, then zapped him again and again.

The officers had given evidence that Dziekanski held the stapler above his head in a threatening manner and screamed at them. The claims were proved false by video of the incident. The officers who have testified told the inquiry that they would not have done anything differently and did not act too quickly.

If this attitude is held by many others within Canada's police forces, stringent policies on Taser use are essential.

We need to know that these weapons are being held in responsible hands, not being used by officers who simply don't want to bother with less-dangerous methods of obtaining information or subduing overtired or stressed individuals.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"They need to assess every situation independently and decide on the appropriate measures". True, but that would only work if they had a brain, a heart or courage. Maybe the Wizard of OZ can get those essentials for them. Obviously from what we have heard so far, the RCMP goons cannot make decisions about when to taser. Besides, if they kill someone needlessly they get off scot-free. Best not to let them have tasers in the first place. It's the only way to save lives. But since staplers are considered a weapon by the RCMP why not outfit all cops with staplers.