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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hamilton (Ontario) police used taser 35 times in 2008

June 18, 2009
By Kevin Werner

Hamilton police officers used more force to subdue perpetrators last year. But they tasered less people, continuing a trend that began when the device was first introduced into the Hamilton Police Service in 2005.

“People are learning (how to use the taser),” said Sgt. Jon Allsbergas, enforcement supervisor.

Hamilton officers used a taser 35 times in 2008, compared to 52 times in 2007, 60 times in 2006 and 87 times in 2005 when the Hamilton Police Service starting using the device, according to use of force statistics complied by the service.

In 2009, officers had used the taser 18 times so far, he said.

Of the 35 times tasers were used, 10 took place in high-risk take downs, 14 incidents took place when an attending officer was responding to a call, four incidents were because of alcohol, and three incidents involved prisoners in custody. Most of the incidents involved officers on patrol.

Tasers fire two barbs attached to a wire that deliver a 50,000-volt shock on contact for up to five seconds. The weapon is meant to immobilize aggressors by shocking their muscles. Since 2001 when police began using the device, 16 people have died in taser-related incidents.

The public and law enforcement officials are more attuned to tasers and their effects on people after the death in October 2007 of a man when RCMP officers used a taser on him at the Vancouver airport.

“(The incident) has raised awareness around the country,” acknowledged Deputy Chief Eric Girt.

Besides tasers, the Hamilton’s use of force report also includes firearms, police dog bites, use of the baton, and the use of pepper spray police use on individuals to subdue them. According to police statistics, officers pulled their guns 33 times in 2008, said Sgt. Allsbergas. He said 32 of those times the gun was used to euthanize animals. In one instance, an officer drew his gun to shoot at an unknown animal.

In 2008, Hamilton police officers were involved in 253 uses of force incidents, an increase from 234 incidents in 2007, but considerable lower than the 308 incidents in 2006 and 317 incidents in 2005. He said most of the use of force incidents occurs from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. The incidents are not broken down into geographic areas, Sgt. Allsbergas acknowledges.

Most of the injuries to the people involved in the incidents include dog bites, cuts, and bruises, but “nothing serious,” said Sgt. Allsbergas.

If a person is tasered, only medical personnel can remove the plugs that have been fired from the device, said Sgt. Allsbergas.

Sgt. Allsbergas said any incident that involves an individual getting injured and an officer is present, a use of force report has to be submitted. “I tell (police officers) I don’t care how trivial, or trifling the injury is, you have to submit a report,” he said.

Sgt. Allsbergas said the taser is the “best device” for officers to use in subduing an individual. But, as the Hamilton Police Services training officer, he tells officers to use the “least amount of force as necessary.”

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