February 27, 2009
Posted By GRANT LAFLECHE, The Standard, St. Catharine's
The number of times Niagara Regional Police have used Tasers dropped by more than half in 2008 as a result of changes to the rules under which officers can deploy the often controversial weapons.
The service has also pulled older model versions of the conducted energy weapon from service while they are tested to ensure they can be used safely.
While the changes reflect a response to ongoing concerns over the safety of the weapons and a public inquiry in Vancouver into the death of a man Tasered by the RCMP, local police say the weapons are still an essential part of their arsenal.
"Our goal is to use the least amount of force necessary (to apprehend someone)," NRP Deputy Chief Joe Matthews said. "We believe the conducted energy weapon is an effective tool to protect both the public and our officers."
On Thursday, the NRP released a report on the use of Tasers in 2008 and detailed the changes made by the service as a result of ongoing concerns over the weapons.
Tasers discharge 50,000 volts into a target, usually through two darts attached to the weapon by cords that are fired into the person.
A Taser can also be used directly against a person without the use of the darts.
The most significant change to NRP policy is the rules governing when the weapons are used.
Before July 2008, NRP officers were permitted to use Tasers when a suspect was determined to be actively resisting an officer, Matthews said.
In Ontario, the actions of police officers are determined by a "use of force" model, he said. In that model, someone who is actively resisting is someone who physically tries to prevent an officer from doing his or her job, but does not pose a threat.
"The example I like to use is someone who is going to be arrested but says, 'No, you can't make me go,' and hangs onto a lamp post or something," Matthews said. "They are not posing a risk to the officer or to anyone else."
After the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police reviewed Taser use in the province last spring, it recommended a change to that policy. The NRP, as with several Ontario police departments, complied. Since July, NRP officers carrying Tasers can use them only when a suspect displays "assaultive behaviour."
Matthews said under the use of force model, assaultive behaviour occurs when someone poses a risk to police officers or a citizen.
The NRP report also said it pulled older models of the X-26 Taser from use to be tested.
Matthews said in December 2008, a CBC report indicated some X-26 Tasers made before 2005 were discharging more volts than they should. As a result, any X-26 Taser made before Dec. 31, 2005, was taken out of service and sent to a lab for testing.
"We are still waiting for results," Matthews said. "The lab we identified is currently dealing with a backlog because of the number of services testing these devices."
The deputy chief said the changed rules resulted in the Tasers being used in 44 incidents in 2008, down from 98 in the previous year.
Currently, only NRP supervisors and members of the tactical unit are authorized to carry Tasers.
Matthews said that is a rule set out by Queen's Park and won't change until the provincial guidelines are altered.
The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police recommends all uniformed officers carry the weapons.
"That is a recommendation we support," Matthews said. "However, I am not aware of any changes coming from the province at this time."
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Niagara Regional Police Taser use
Number of incidents a Taser was used:
2008 44 2007 98 2006 87
2005 50 (First year Tasers were used. Data were only collected for a six-month period.)
2008 Taser use breakdown: Total incidents: 44 Total discharges of Tasers: 54
Location of Taser use:
Outdoors 52 per cent
Indoors 29 per cent
NRP cells 14 per cent
Hospitals 5 per cent
91 per cent of those Tasered were men. Four per cent were women and four per cent were animals.
Source: NRP report Conducted Energy Weapons Statistics for 2008
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Friday, February 27, 2009
February 27, 2009