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Friday, March 20, 2009

Boys, 15, Tasered by Toronto police, stats show

March 20, 2009
Toronto Star

A 71-year-old man and two 15-year-old boys were among the people Tasered by Toronto police last year, new figures indicate.

While a police report says 122 people were Tasered in 2008, it fails to reveal where and when each incident took place and more explicit details of the events leading up to the confrontations.

Police are refusing to comment on the contents of the 21-page report until it is presented at a March 30 Toronto Police Services Board meeting.

Despite the lack of detail, board chair Alok Mukherjee called it one of the most comprehensive Taser reports ever created in the country. Nevertheless, he admitted there could be a need for the release of more information in the future.

In the last year, the issue of Taser transparency has come up at several board meetings, leading police to provide more information about incidents involving the conducted energy weapon.

"I won't be surprised if we have a similar discussion again after board members review this report and have issues that they want probed further," Mukherjee said. "I won't be surprised if the chief has to consider (more) improvements."

The current report entitled Use of Conducted Energy Weapons provides at least three times the information contained in the 2007 document. Whereas the previous report indicated only brief reasons for using the controversial weapon and the type of deployment chosen – showing the current, pressing it against a subject or shooting the darts – the new document reveals better description of the incidents and subjects by age, condition, behaviour and the threat officers believe they posed.

It also includes information about whether another type of force, such as a gun or baton, was used before officers decided to deploy a Taser. Whether training issues may have factored into an officer's decision and if an injury resulted from the interaction, are also contained in the report.

Last year, the report shows, Emergency Task Force officers shot the weapon's darts into the 71-year-old man after responding to a weapons call. They had deemed the man an emotionally distressed person in danger of doing harm to himself or others – grounds, according to the police Use of Force Model, to use lethal force, even a gun.

In two other instances, front line supervisors stunned two teenagers. One 15-year-old boy was deemed suicidal. The other was armed with a knife. On yet another occasion, to quell a 12-year-old boy who police perceived was in danger of causing bodily harm to himself or others, the report shows officers pulled out their Tasers and displayed its threatening blue current.

Police spokesperson Mark Pugash would not comment on details of the current report, but said it is the behaviour of a subject that influences how an officer reacts and with what type of force – not the subject's age, mental status or motivation. "Age doesn't matter. A 13-year-old is able to pose as great a threat as a 60-year-old," Pugash said. He said the same applies to those deemed EDP, emotionally disturbed persons.

Last year, police used Tasers in one of its three modes 376 times in 329 incidents. It's a slight reduction from 2007, when the conducted energy weapon was used 404 times in 368 incidents.

In 2008, 312 people came into some contact with a police Taser, down from 347 people in 2007.

Of the 2008 incidents, the report indicates officers classified 112 subjects as emotionally disturbed. But, the report says "to conclude (Tasers) are used primarily on those with a mental disorder would be inaccurate" because few of the same subjects were subsequently arrested under the Mental Health Act.

In at least one 2008 incident, police appear to have stunned someone unlawfully, the report shows, by fully deploying the device on a person classified as active resistant. In lay parlance, that means a subject was refusing to cooperate with police by actively pulling away or trying to escape.

Only a handful of highly specialized officers are permitted to holster a Taser and can only shoot its darts if a subject is assaultive – threatens or gestures violence – or is perceived as capable of causing serious bodily harm to self or others.

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