February 18, 2009
Mike Howell, Vancouver Courier
The Vancouver Police Department cannot specify one reason why its officers fired Tasers significantly fewer times in 2008 than in previous years.
Officers fired the stun gun 27 times in 2008 and pointed it 36 times at suspects who surrendered rather than be zapped by the 50,000-volt gun. The VPD's use of the weapon was markedly lower than in 2007 (74 times), 2006 (93) and in 2005 (66). The VPD didn't have statistics for those years on how many times the weapon was aimed at a suspect, but not fired.
"We can't point to one definitive reason why the usage went down," said Const. Jana McGuinness, a media liaison officer with the department.
McGuinness said there was no directive from Police Chief Jim Chu to curtail the use of the controversial weapon in 2008. In fact, the VPD bought 70 Tasers in late 2007. At last count, the department had 171 Tasers but at least 40 were pulled from service in December after B.C. Solicitor General John van Dongen requested all municipal police forces pull selected models of the stun guns from service.
The models in question, acquired before Jan.1, 2006, concerned the provincial government because recent independent testing of the devices showed the voltage emitted by the guns during use sometimes exceeded the manufacturer's specifications.
David Eby, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said the decrease in the VPD's use of the Taser in 2008 suggests the department changed its policy on when the gun is to be deployed. Eby said police forces have faced mounting pressure from the public and politicians to stop using the Taser until independent testing can conclusively say the gun does not cause death.
That pressure was sparked by the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski in October 2007 at the Vancouver International Airport. RCMP officers fired a Taser several times at Dziekanski, who died at the scene.
"It would be naive to say that political pressure doesn't play a role in the VPD cutting back on the use of the Taser," Eby said.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association requested a moratorium on the Taser in the same month Dziekanski died. The association called for uniformed standards for training, use and accountability enshrined in law.
Three VPD officers made a presentation on the Taser at the Jan. 21 Vancouver Police Board meeting. They said the Taser was effective in arresting people who otherwise would have to be tackled, struck with a baton or shot with a gun.
In June 2008, RCMP officers were instructed the Taser be used only "where it is necessary to do so in circumstances of threats to officer or public safety."
That directive is now formal RCMP policy.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Thursday, February 19, 2009
February 18, 2009