February 24, 2009
The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — Canada's main police associations have launched a vigorous defence of Tasers and declared that every officer in the country should be authorized to carry one.
But they also admit that officers have used Tasers too often, stunned peaceful suspects, and not been transparent enough in reporting how they've used the weapon.
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 actually have stopped people from killing themselves.
Ontario Provincial Police chief Julian Fantino taunted Taser critics, saying they'd never walked in an officer's shoes and probably couldn't even pass a basic training course.
"Tasers save lives and that's the bottom line," Fantino said. "We decided it was time to set the record straight."
But the message remained muddled.
Police alluded to multiple studies that disputed Tasers' capacity to kill - but couldn't name a single research paper they'd consulted when pressed repeatedly for specific citations.
At the end of the news conference, officers 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."
He added that the weapon may have been used to force peaceful suspects to comply - and that such use by officers was "not correct."
To help officers use the weapons more responsibly, the associations' position paper calls for better training and for government-mandated guidelines on Taser use, training, and transparent reporting.
At least 20 people have died in Canada after being Tasered. A public inquiry is under way in the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski.
The RCMP announced this month that it has changed its policy because of the dangers - including risk of death - associated with the use of Tasers.
The Mounties have restricted their use to 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.
RCMP Commissioner William Elliott said: "The RCMP's revised policy underscores that there are risks associated with the deployment of the device and emphasizes that those risks include the risk of death, particularly for agitated individuals."
The new RCMP policy - that Tasers should only be used to prevent urgent threats - dovetails with the guidelines described Tuesday by the national police associations.
But the associations said Elliott's observation that Tasers can kill had been twisted out of context. They said 150 studies have failed to find a link between Tasers and deaths.
However, they repeatedly refused to say which studies they had consulted before developing their Taser policy.
"Do your own homework," Fantino shot back when asked to cite a single study. "There's 150 studies worldwide."
However, a 2006 study in Illinois in which pigs were Tasered resulted in every single one of the animals suffering from a heart defect or dying.
A team of doctors at Chicago's Cook County hospital stunned 11 pigs, hitting their chests with a pair of 40-second jolts with a brief pause in between. Two of the pigs died from cardiac arrest, and all the other animals ended up with heart problems.
Police officials Tuesday suggested that deaths linked to Tasers could have other factors at play, like drug use or what they called "in-custody death syndrome."
The RCMP recently removed from its operational manual the term "excited delirium" - a term for unexplained deaths in police custody that has been panned by medical associations and civil libertarians.
Amnesty International has decried an information vacuum surrounding Tasers, and wants their use limited until it sees satisfactory studies on their potential impact.
The human rights group says it's not necessarily against Tasers, but added the police officers' performance Tuesday was counter-productive.
"(The Taser) has a legitimate purpose," Amnesty's Hilary Homes said.
"But at the same time we don't know enough about it to judge where its risk really lies. In that context, mixed messages really aren't helpful at all ... I'm not sure that the current dialogue is really helping."
NDP Leader Jack Layton also offered a similar view of Tasers. He did not criticize their use, but also complained about an information vacuum.
"We're concerned that the (police) report doesn't underline the possible dangers of these Tasers enough," Layton said.
"I think we have to have input from all of the different sources and our concern is that there can be consequences from Taser use that can be pretty worrying, pretty scary."
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
February 24, 2009