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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

EDITORIAL: Police stun guns need a high bar

February 25, 2009
Toronto Star

Robert Dziekanski was jolted five times by a police stun gun and is dead. Amnesty International says 25 people have died in Canada after being stunned. In other cases police have reportedly jolted an unco-operative teenage girl in a jail cell, an elderly heart patient in hospital and a senior who tried to dodge a parking ticket.

Yet Canada's police are trying to wave off concern that the weapons are being used too freely. In Ottawa yesterday, the Canadian Police Association and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police issued a "position document" that amounted to a bold defence of current use.

"Tasers save lives," said CPA President Charles Momy, insisting they are "a tool we must have." The two groups called 50,000-volt stun guns "a valuable use-of-force option" that all police officers should be authorized to use when there is "an imminent need for control." And they pointed out there is no research proving stun guns kill.

This pushback should set alarms ringing in Ottawa and in every provincial capital. Far from rethinking stun guns, the police seem to be intent on expanding their use.

Yet not two weeks ago Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner William Elliott told a committee of Parliament that police who use stun guns on agitated or delirious people expose them to "the risk of death." Elliott has rightly told his officers to use stun guns only "where it is necessary to do so in circumstances of threats to officer or public safety." Some would raise the bar further, by requiring that threats be "severe."

Much less limiting was the police view released yesterday that stun guns can be used whenever there is an "imminent need for control."

Judging from these differences, police policy seems to vary from force to force.

No one suggests that Canada's police are out of control. They took more than 3 million calls in 2007, and arrested 176,000 people. Stun guns were used in only a small fraction of cases. Even so, deaths and abuses have been reported, and unarmed people have been zapped.

Concerned Canadians deserve more than a breezy assurance by the police that the world of stun gun use is unfolding as it should.

What's needed is a tough, commonly accepted standard that bars "usage creep" by limiting stun guns to instances where officers and the public are at serious risk and where no lesser form of restraint is practical. And multiple jolts must be discouraged.

We also need careful monitoring to ensure stun guns are used responsibly. And we need credible, independent research into the physical threat they pose.


Anonymous said...

I agree with Amnisty International; recall TASERs and pass out more bullets!

Anonymous said...

Dealing X, dealing cocaine.
Hooking up a rave. Kids die.
Drug dealer.
Beth's drug dealer needs to be arrested.