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Saturday, February 07, 2009

RCMP Taser report raises new questions

February 6, 2009
The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — A civil liberties group wants to know why the RCMP continued to confront non-aggressive people with Tasers early last year despite criticism of the tactic.

The national police force's latest quarterly statistical report on stun gun use says officers pulled their Tasers against one co-operative person and eight people who were passively resistant - behaviour that includes refusing to move but not actually resisting arrest.

The report covers January through March 2008, the period immediately following a hard-hitting report from the watchdog over the force.

In December 2007, the Commission for Complaints Against the RCMP said the Taser should be used only when suspects are "combative" or pose a risk of "death or grievous bodily harm" to an officer, themselves or the public.

Paul Kennedy, head of the commission, said RCMP "usage creep" of the powerful electronic weapons meant Mounties were firing the guns more than they should.

Kennedy's final report, issued in June, reiterated his call for tighter controls on an electronic weapon the Mounties had pulled from their holsters more than 4,000 times since its introduction in 2001.

In response, the RCMP said it would provide clearer direction to officers and further restrict reliance on the Taser.

The force says the stun guns are now to be used only when there is a threat to officers or public safety.

The quarterly report says RCMP officers fired their Tasers, or at least pulled them out of their holsters, 304 times during the first three months of last year.

A review of the eight cases in which the Taser was used against people displaying passively resistant behaviour found the weapon was unholstered and pointed but not actually fired, with the exception of one accidental discharge.

The individuals had "refused to comply with verbal commands," the report says, and in each case the decision to pull out the stun gun was based on "a risk assessment which resulted in a perceived threat."

It is unclear how or why the Taser was used against the co-operative person, though the report indicates heroin was involved. In five of the eight other cases, alcohol or drugs were deemed to be a factor.

The RCMP had no further comment this week on the nine cases.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association was also unable to learn more from the force about the incidents outlined in a statistical pie chart.

"It's hard to look at that chart and not have some questions," said David Eby, the organization's acting executive director.

"This was a chart that was buried at the back of the report that suggests there were nine incidents of RCMP officers misusing the Taser against policy. And there's no discussion of what discipline was imposed, what measures were put in place to prevent this from happening again."

Eby said the issue is heightened by the fact some of the data is almost a year old.

"When you see something like nine possible misuses of these weapons, no description of what the response is, and it happened nine months ago, it leads inevitably to the question about, well, what's happened in the nine months since?"

The RCMP complaints commission is conducting its own analysis of RCMP Taser use last year, and expects to issue findings shortly.

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