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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

RCMP 'dinosaurs' in 'dark ages' of police work: Psychologist

May 13, 2009
By Suzanne Fournier, Vancouver Province

VANCOUVER — A police psychologist who told the Braidwood inquiry Wednesday that four RCMP officers "panicked" and used "excessive force" when they Tasered Robert Dziekanski said he blames RCMP management for the "tragedy."

Mike Webster, who helped train police agencies for more than 30 years, said that although he respects the challenge faced by frontline officers, he said he would "diagnose" the RCMP as an organization as "sick."

"I have the utmost respect for (RCMP) operational members on the street, who are generally well-meaning, their hearts are in the right place and they want to serve the community," said Webster.

But Webster said the RCMP senior management are "dinosaurs" that are still in the "dark ages" of police work.

He said the four officers who Tasered Dziekanski within seconds of meeting him at the Vancouver International Airport on Oct. 14, 2007, "abandoned their good solid basic training" and instead reached for the Taser.

Webster said that Dziekanski was frightened but calmed down and called out to police when they arrived.

"The situation was solved the minute he saw the yellow stripe on dark-blue pants — it could have been easily resolved by police presence and communication, but then police gave conflicting commands and became antagonistic, the Taser was used multiple times and the event deteriorated into a tragedy," said Webster.

"I do not think it was good police work and I think three-quarters of the Canadian public agrees with me." Webster admitted that his consulting work to the RCMP has "dried up" in the wake of his public criticism. "Unfortunately the RCMP is not a healthy organization and is unable to take criticism," he said. "I've become something of a pariah," said Webster noting he still works with a couple of RCMP managers who he said still have the "courage" to hire him, as well as many municipal police agencies.

Webster said he understands that the four officers "perceived" that Dziekanski picked up a stapler to use against them

But he said, "I don't think it was a weapon. He was frightened, he picked up a stapler to defend himself, but he could have picked up an ashtray . . . or a ruler . . . or a bundle of paper.

"I don't think it was a credible threat."

Dziekanski died within minutes of being Tasered and could not be revived by paramedics, who found him lying lifeless and unattended on the airport floor when they arrived at 1:42 a.m., about 12 minutes after he'd been Tasered.

The inquiry, originally slated to finish hearing evidence this Thursday, now will carry over to at least two days next week before hearing closing arguments at the end of May.

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