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Friday, July 31, 2009

Alberta government tightens Taser use guidelines, orders annual tests

July 31, 2009
By Shannon Montgomery (CP) – 10 hours ago

CALGARY — Alberta has tightened its guidelines on when police can use conducted energy weapons such as Tasers to when a suspect poses a threat to officers, themselves or people around them.

Previous guidelines said officers could fire the stun guns if someone tried to resist arrest, or even just threatened to do so.

"We believe that it's appropriate that the only time that particular instrument is used is if there's a threat to the safety of the public, the person who's not following direction or the police officer himself," Solicitor General Fred Lindsay said Friday.

"It makes it crystal clear to the officers when they can deploy the instrument, because these decisions are made in a split second."

Alberta's move comes a week after the B.C. government imposed similar restrictions on Taser use following the release of the Braidwood report into the 2007 death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport.

Dziekanski was repeatedly zapped by a Taser after a confrontation with four Mounties.

Alberta's new rules also say Tasers must be tested frequently, including annual tests and when any weapon is linked to a serious injury or fatality. Random tests must also be done on 10 per cent of a force's Tasers four times a year.

The government promised changes after tests completed in April showed that 12 per cent of the province's Tasers weren't working properly. Forty-two older guns and eight new ones were found to be faulty. Twenty-nine didn't deliver enough volts, nine emitted too much and the rest were inconsistent.

Previous Taser guidelines did not require the guns to be tested at all.

Alberta's new regulations meet most of the recommendations from the Braidwood inquiry, said government spokeswoman Michelle Davio, except recommendations that Tasers should fall under the Hazardous Products Act and that police who carry Tasers also have easy access to external defibrillators.

The government is still looking at those two ideas, she said.

"We believe that our new guidelines stand up very well with his recommendations," said Lindsay.

More than 25 Canadians, at least three from Alberta, have died after encounters in which Tasers were used.

Alberta Liberal justice critic Kent Hehr said the new restrictions are a big step forward.

"I still believe these are dangerous weapons and should be used as a last resort measure," Hehr said. "I'm happy and yet realize we have to (stay) vigilant on studying Tasers and their use by our criminal justice system."

The new Alberta regulations also tighten the rules on when police have to report using a Taser.

Officers will continue to have to write up a report and notify a supervisor every time they fire a weapon intentionally, but will now also have to report discharging the weapon accidentally or using a Taser to threaten a suspect without actually discharging it.

These reports will also go directly to the provincial government instead of being kept by individual police forces.

"It just puts us in a better position if something happens to do a thorough investigation of it," Lindsay said.

Calgary police are happy with the guidelines and clarifications in the language around when Tasers can be used, said acting Superintendent Ray Robitaille.

It's helpful for the public to have a clear idea of when a weapon can be used, he said.

"I think anything we can do around any use of force to clarify under what conditions that it's being used so that the public has that confidence and trust in the police is a good thing."

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