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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tasers are an essential tool that saves lives, police say

February 25, 2009

OTTAWA -- Canadian police lashed back yesterday at those who would curtail the use of tasers, saying the weapons are an essential tool for front-line officers and pose no threat to the public.

Julian Fantino, the Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police, engaged in a testy back-and-forth with reporters at an Ottawa news conference where he and representatives of two national police organizations insisted that tasers do not kill.

"Tasers save lives, and that's the bottom line," said Chief Fantino. "Yes, there has to be adequate training, there has to be policies and procedures and accountability. But to deprive our police officers of what is, in fact, a very essential tool to do their jobs is counterproductive."

The weapons have been blamed for more than 20 deaths in Canada, including that of Polish immigrant Robert Dzienkanski, who was tasered by RCMP officers at Vancouver International Airport in October, 2007. A public inquiry into his death is being held in Vancouver.

Chief Fantino said it was time to bring "honesty" into reporting about tasers. There are 150 studies worldwide, he said, that show "there is no direct link in any case where a taser has been deployed ... to the demise of any individual."

When reporters demanded to know which studies he was referring to, Chief Fantino replied that he was not going to do homework for the media.

In fact, much research substantiates the safety of taser use.

A 2000 study conducted at Wake Forest University in North Carolina by Dr. William Bozeman showed that out of "nearly 1,000 cases, 99.7 per cent of those subjected to a taser had mild injuries, such as scrapes and bruises, or none at all." But even Dr. Bozeman, whose research is often cited as evidence that the weapons are safe, found that they can "clearly cause injuries and even deaths in some cases."

A paper released last month by the University of California, San Francisco, noted that the rate of sudden death in California increased six-fold in the first year that law-enforcement agencies in the state began using tasers. A 2008 study by Amnesty International, which included 98 autopsies, concluded that tasers can kill and called for them to be used only as a weapon of last resort.

Officials of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, which represents police chiefs across Canada, and the Canadian Police Association, which represents rank-and-file officers, appeared with Chief Fantino to underline their assertion that tasers, also known as conducted-energy weapons, or CEWs, are safe.

Tasers "certainly enhance public safety and officer safety," said Charles Momy, president of the Canadian Police Association. "It is our position that all police officers should be authorized to carry CEWs."

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