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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Don't rush to judge officers who used taser, says RCMP chief

March 22, 2009

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — The Commissioner of the RCMP said the angry outcry that followed the tasering of a Polish man who died in the Vancouver airport comes from people who do not understand the pressures faced by his officers.

Most Canadians don't experience danger on a daily basis and don't know how difficult it is to deal with situations in which they feel threatened, William Elliott said Sunday during a visit to southern Afghanistan to observe police mentoring teams.

“I do not believe that most Canadians have an appreciation as to how difficult the situations our officers find themselves in are,” said Mr. Elliott. “They don't realize how quickly things happen and they don't realize how ... often unfortunately bad things happen.”

The Braidwood inquiry into the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski resumes Monday, after a two-week hiatus, with the testimony of Cpl. Benjamin Robinson, one of the RCMP officers involved in the incident that preceded his death.

RCMP officers approach Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver airport, where he was tasered repeatedly after brandishing a stapler in October 2007.

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Mr. Dziekanski was tasered repeatedly by the police after brandishing a stapler in October of 2007. His death, witnessed by Canadians on television and on the Internet, caused a torrent of criticism that the RCMP used undue force.

"The whole notion of looking at a video in slow motion or frame by frame is completely contrary to how a real human being perceives things when they are in the midst of a situation,” Mr. Elliott said.

His biggest concern, he said, “relates to the public's perception of the RCMP, the public's confidence in the RCMP. And I think that I and the organization are certainly very much concerned about, and aware of the fact, that our credibility has certainly taken some blows.”

More than 60 per cent of Canadians surveyed recently by Harris-Decima for the Canadian Press said they felt the officers used excessive force when they confronted Mr. Dziekanski and stunned him several times with a taser. About half of those surveyed said the death and the inquiry hasn't changed their confidence in the Mounties, but 36 per cent said their confidence decreased.

Mr. Elliott said he would ask Canadians to reflect for a minute before they jump to conclusions.

“I think there is a real danger in us making judgments, particularly the judgments about the character of people or organizations, based on our own limited experience,” he said. “Even in situations where people make mistakes or don't act appropriately, I think there is a requirement do a sober sound examination of the facts or the circumstances and I think the expression 'walk a mile in my shoes' comes to mind.”

Mr. Elliott said last month, that given the “high risk of death” in some cases, RCMP officers have been required since last June to limit their use of tasers to individuals who pose a clear threat to the public or police. Prior to that policy change, the Mounties were permitted to use of tasers in dealing with people merely because they were “actively resistant.”

There have been more than a dozen deaths related to the use of tasers in Canada. But Mr. Elliott has insisted that, even though they “hurt like hell,” they are much safer than firearms and are not lethal per se.

1 comment:

Kate said...

Over at Globe and Mail, they have cut off comments at over 300, most (90%+?)many highly critical of Elliot for this interview that says we don't understand police stress and ignores the effect of the associated cover-up.

We must not miss his acknowledgement that tasers have "'high risk of death' in some cases" (though not causing death per-se). He is the first high-rank police person to publically name the risk of death and he is wading upstream against most other forces to do so. He is the first civilian to head the RCMP. I would hate to see him forced out, and civilian oversight be said to have failed.
Elliot is on a tightrope, and seems to be a good man.