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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Police praise Tasers

February 25, 2009
Scott Tracey, Guelph Mercury

Guelph's deputy police chief welcomed a position document released yesterday that would see all officers authorized to carry Tasers.

"We do support the use of Tasers . . . and in the future we'd like to see Tasers for all officers," Brent Eden said in an interview.

The Canadian Police Association and Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police issued a joint statement yesterday supporting so-called conducted energy weapons.

At a news conference on Parliament Hill, representatives of the two organizations alleged the public has been misinformed that the weapons cost lives.

Tasers have come under close scrutiny, especially during the past month as a public inquiry plays out in Vancouver into the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, who died in October 2007 after being stunned with a Taser by four RCMP officers at the Vancouver International Airport.

Earlier this month, RCMP Commissioner William Elliott announced his organization had revised its policy for using the weapons, adding that risks involved with using them include "the risk of death."

Eden conceded there are risks to using Tasers, as there are with all weapons, but noted there have been situations in which they have prevented injuries to officers and civilians.

"There's definitely a risk to using them," the deputy said. "They are a use-of-force application and there can be a risk associated with any use-of-force option."

Guelph Police received Tasers in December 2002, but currently only front-line supervisors and members of the tactical unit are authorized to carry them.

"We support a provincial push to have all officers equipped with conducted energy weapons," Eden said.

The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police passed a resolution in 2007 asking the province to allow all officers access to the weapons.

Yesterday, OACP president Ian Davidson said his organization is still waiting.

"If a police officer, legislatively, can be trusted to carry a firearm then surely he or she should be permitted to carry a conducted energy weapon," Davidson, chief of the Greater Sudbury police service, said in an interview.

Davidson conceded the weapons have "come under significant scrutiny" by the media, which has "raised some questions" about the safety of Tasers that must be addressed.

But he said he is confident legislators and the public will eventually embrace the weapons as a valuable policing tool.

"Although not without risk, the CEW is a very viable use-of-force option," Davidson said. "This is something that simply has to be in the hands of officers."

Eden conceded the most important element of wider Taser use would be training, noting use of the weapons is not currently part of the curriculum at the Ontario Police College.

He noted training has not been a serious issue in Guelph as the weapons are only used by tactical officers, who receive the most training in the police service, and by supervisors who necessarily have years of policing experience to rely upon.

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