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Monday, March 16, 2009

Vancouver cops tied for second in Canada in Taser usage

March 16, 2009
Mike Howell, Vancouver Courier

The Vancouver Police Department tied for second with Niagara Regional Police Service for the number of times a Taser was fired in 2007.

Out of eight departments in Canada, including Montreal, officers from Vancouver and Niagara fired the Taser 74 times each. Edmonton topped all departments with 89. Victoria officers fired the Taser 71 times, with Greater Sudbury (55), Halifax (38), Waterloo Regional (33) and Montreal (32) rounding out the eight departments. The report did not include statistics from Toronto, which has one of the largest police departments in Canada.

The statistics are contained in a brief report that goes before the Vancouver Police Board March 18. The report also included statistics for 2008, but only four departments are listed.

The VPD's use of the Taser in 2008 dropped to 27 times from 74 in 2007. Greater Sudbury's force also saw a decrease in 2008, with 23 firings from 55 in 2007. The report lists statistics for two other departments but didn't name them. The report's author, Drazen Manojlovic, said the two unnamed departments haven't publicly released the statistics.

But Manojlovic, who is the VPD's director of planning and research, said the departments-which fired their stun guns 91 and 73 times respectively in 2008-are of comparable size to the VPD.

Manojlovic said it was "unlikely" that the other departments represented in the report had similar decreases to the VPD. He didn't explain the reason for the decrease.

In February, the Courier attempted to determine why the VPD saw such a dramatic decrease in use of the stun gun since 2005. In 2006, the VPD fired the Taser 93 times and 66 in 2005.

Const. Jana McGuinness, a media liaison officer with the department, said the VPD couldn't point to a definitive reason for the decrease. McGuinness also told the Courier in February that there was no directive from Police Chief Jim Chu to curtail the use of the controversial weapon.

Manojlovic noted in his report that his analysis of the statistics "to be blunt, only scratches the surface." Other factors, including how many officers are authorized to use a Taser and departments' policies around Taser use were not included in the report.

"If more comprehensive analysis is required, then the VPD would need to formally canvass comparable police departments later in 2009 to obtain more data, enquire about the factors listed above, and obtain approval to publicly release such information," Manojlovic wrote.

The Canadian Association of Police Boards released a report Feb. 24 on stun guns, or conducted energy weapons. The association agrees in theory that a Taser can be a valuable force option for police.

"However, [the association] would like to see more evidence and discussion to clarify the conditions under which use of [Tasers] does not pose risk of injury or death," the report said.

At last count, the VPD had more than 120 Tasers, which are made in the United States by Taser International. The stun gun resembles a handgun and releases 50,000 volts of electricity through two probes into clothing or skin.

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