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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

More details demanded on (Toronto) police Taser use

March 31, 2009

The civilian body overseeing Toronto police is asking the force for more details about the 179 times officers Tasered people last year, including two 15-year-olds.

Pam McConnell, who led the Toronto Police Services Board meeting yesterday, said yesterday she's proud Toronto police disclose Tasering information, but acknowledged several facets of its recent report on use of the stun gun are vague and misleading.

The board ordered more improvements, fixes and changes to the document that has undergone several revisions in the past year – from issuing the report semi-annually, to spelling out exactly what certain statistics mean.

The report fails to reveal where and when some incidents occurred, as well as explicit details of events leading up to confrontations.

Board members pressed Police Chief Bill Blair for clarification on why the device was used on two 15-year-old boys and shown to a 12-year-old boy.

Blair said one 15-year-old was trying to commit suicide and the other lunged at officers with a knife.

Showing the 12-year-old the Taser's blue electrical current halted a fit of violence, Blair said.

"We report far greater detail than anyone else in the country and in North America," Blair said. "I think it's appropriate. The public has a lot of questions and needs explanations and we're trying to make sure they get that."

Toronto police officers fired Taser darts at people 122 times last year and used it in "dry stun" mode, pressing it against a person's skin or clothing, 57 times.

Police use of Tasers has been under the microscope since 2007 when Polish visitor Robert Dziekanski died of cardiac arrest in Vancouver's airport after being jolted by RCMP members. An inquiry is probing that incident.

More than one-third of the 329 times that Toronto officers deployed Tasers – that includes showing its current, firing the darts and pressing it against a person – involved Emotionally Disturbed Persons, the report states.

Blair told the board the term doesn't necessarily refer to a mentally ill person, but to irrational, angry and violent behaviour.

"It is a perception," he said yesterday. "Not a diagnosis."

While the report concludes "few" of those classified as emotionally disturbed were apprehended under the Mental Health Act, board members want more detailed statistics.

Board members have raised the issue of Taser transparency several times in the past, but they decided yesterday to leave specific changes to the report up to Blair and board chair Alok Mukherjee.

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