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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Nova Scotia tracks taser use

February 14, 2009

The province’s two largest municipal police forces will look at the changes to the RCMP’s national policy on Taser use. But force officials say they’ve already complied with changes Nova Scotia made last year.

"It’s very unlikely there will be any changes to our policy, as it’s virtually the same as ours," said Const. Jeff Carr, spokesman for Halifax Regional Police.

Earlier this week, RCMP Commissioner William Elliott told MPs on the Commons public safety committee that the new rules clearly set out that Mounties can’t zap suspects for simple resistance or refusing to co-operate, The Canadian Press reported.

Instead, officers must only use Tasers in cases involving a threat to officers or public safety and must report and justify each time they use or threaten to use the device, the news agency reported.

The Halifax force’s policy was also "updated last year subsequent to an extensive review by the Nova Scotia Department of Justice," Const. Carr said.

Following that study, provincial Justice Minister Cecil Clarke tightened restrictions surrounding the use of Tasers to "situations of violent or aggressive resistance or active threat" that could injure officers, the public or a suspect.

He accepted a series of recommendations from an advisory panel’s review report, which also pointed to concerns Tasers were "being used as a compliance tool" on those who were not actively resisting."It’s certainly not intended nor is it used as a compliance instrument," Chief Myles Burke of Cape Breton Regional Police said.

Since the provincial review was completed, the Cape Breton force’s senior trainer conducts an internal review each time an officer uses the device. He sends a written report to the chief and that information is forwarded to the provincial Justice Department, Chief Burke said.

"We are accountable," he said.

As with any weapon, "anything we do dealing with force, there’s a risk, and we continue to do training . . . and review our policies," he said.

A provincial fatality inquiry will open next week into the 2007 death of Howard Hyde. The Dartmouth man had a history of schizophrenia and died about 30 hours after Halifax Regional Police used a stun gun on him. The province’s chief medical examiner ruled Mr. Hyde’s death accidental, but the inquiry will look at the circumstances surrounding the death.

Back in 2002, Halifax was the first department in the province to provide officers with Tasers. Last year, the force had 33 Tasers and about 45 per cent of its officers were trained to use them. More are being trained.

Chief Burke didn’t have the exact number of stun guns his force owns, but he said it is continuing to purchase the devices and officer training is ongoing.

"We will continue to use the conductive energy devices and we certainly deploy them where there’s a need to take control, because certainly in a number of cases that we’re reviewed, lethal force would be an option," he said. "Having that (stun gun) option, we see it as being a very valuable, valuable thing for our staff."

Justice Minister Cecil Clarke accepted all 16 recommendations of a ministerial review on Tasers last year.

Some of those include:

•Appoint a panel of scientific experts to annually review Taser safety.
•Create a provincial database of Taser use.
•Establish provincial standards for all use-of-force devices.
•Conduct a full policy review of Taser use in the province, but restrict the use of the device in the meantime.
•Ensure uniform training standards for officers, and instructors should be accredited under provincial standards.
•Establish a provincial commission to investigate complaints about police Taser use and review training and use-of-force policy.

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