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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Stun guns get the job done, police tell board

April 23, 2009
Cherri Greeno, The Record (Waterloo, Ontario)

Tasers are one of the most effective forms of force available to regional police, according to a report released yesterday.

Stun guns were discharged 29 times last year, says the annual report on "use of force" incidents.

In all but one case, the weapon was effective in getting combative suspects to comply with police.

The one failure was blamed on the probe getting tangled in the suspect's clothes.

"It's one of the most consistently effective methods . . . with the least amount of injuries,"said Insp. Steve Beckett of Waterloo Regional Police.

The report to the Waterloo Regional Police Services board also said that officers fired their guns 45 times last year.

One shot killed a 26-year-old robbery suspect.

Forty-three shots were aimed at animals, and one was fired at the lock of a door.

Another officer's gun discharged into the floor of a house after he was attacked while entering.

The use-of-force report describes stun guns as "conducted energy weapons," also known by the brand name Taser.

Police have found the Taser even works well when it is simply shown to a suspect, according to the report.

Officers displayed a Taser 26 times last year. In each case, the suspect complied.

Whenever a Taser has been used or displayed, "there's been less injury to the subject and to the officer," Beckett said.

Some supporters of stun guns believe they provide officers with a less-lethal form of force.

But their use became controversial after the death of Robert Dziekanski in 2007.

Dziekanski was stunned several times during a confrontation with RCMP at Vancouver's airport.

The weapons can be used two ways.

One is the drive-stun method, in which an officer subdues a suspect by simply touching him with the device.

The other method is to fire a probe that makes contact with the suspect's skin and incapacitates him.

Deputy Chief Brent Thomlison told police board members yesterday that Tasers have "an extremely high rate of effectiveness."

The use of physical-control methods -- such as wrist locks and arm bars -- more than doubled, from 30 in 2007 to 63 in 2008.

The increase is likely due to recent training on physical-control techniques and the fact officers were more confident in using them, Beckett said.

This could also explain the increase in reported injuries -- 15 in 2008, compared with seven in 2007.

Of the 15, five were from takedowns by police dogs.

Another five were from hard physical control methods, such as punching or kicking.

Four cases of injuries were the result of soft-control methods, and one happened when a suspect darted in front of a cruiser.

All of the injuries were minor.

Overall, the use-of-force statistics show that officers "are effectively and appropriately using their use-of-force protocols," Thomlison told board members.

Waterloo Regional Police made 13,318 arrests in 2008, compared with 13,642 in 2007.

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