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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

EDITORIAL: RCMP's muddy Taser rules

It's good to know I'm not the only one who noticed this!!

February 17, 2009
Victoria Times Colonist

All you need to know about the RCMP's dysfunction on Tasers -- and perhaps more broadly -- was on display in one nine-hour period last week.

In the morning, RCMP Commissioner William Elliott told a parliamentary committee that the force now recognizes that the stun guns pose a risk of death, something police and the manufacturer have been reluctant to acknowledge despite some 25 deaths in Canada after people have been tasered.

The RCMP changed its policies in June to instruct officers not to use Tasers on people who were "resistant" or unco-operative.

"We no longer allow that," Elliott said.

The new rules say the Taser must be used only when there is a real threat to officers or the public and that its use must be "reasonable" in circumstances where the alternative is to shoot a gun.

That would have been a welcome change, although it is baffling -- and irresponsible -- for the RCMP to make such a change and not announce it for seven months.

Taser use was, through that period, a major public concern. The RCMP reputation had been sullied by the death of Robert Dziekanski and use of the stun guns on jailed teens and elderly hospital patients.

But later in the day, the chairman of the RCMP's officer safety committee said Elliott was wrong.

"The commissioner, with all due respect, is incorrect to say we wouldn't use them again for actively resistant people," Sgt. Scott Warren said.

"I think he's in over his head."

The possible explanations are all alarming: The commissioner misled the parliamentary committee, officers don't accept his authority, or policies are so murky or poorly communicated that front-line officers don't understand them.

Warren left the impression that officers would continue to use Tasers whenever they considered it appropriate, no matter what the RCMP decided the official policy should be.

RCMP complaints commissioner Paul Kennedy noted the policy is still vague and falls short of accepting safety recommendations.

The RCMP has resisted public accountability on its use of Tasers -- and in too many other areas. The delayed announcement of this change and the internal conflicts over its substance undermine any reassurance of greater care offered by the commissioner.

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