July 25, 2009
By Peter McKnight, Vancouver Sun
Two problems have dogged police use of Tasers in British Columbia for nearly a decade: One concerns Victoria's failure to set province-wide standards for municipal police forces to follow, and the other concerns the inability of the province to set standards for the RCMP, given that the Mounties are federally regulated.
Former B.C. Court of Appeal justice Thomas Braidwood's comprehensive report, released on Thursday, contains a wealth of recommendations to solve both problems. And judging by Solicitor-General Kash Heed's unequivocal acceptance of the recommendations, the province appears fully committed to solving the first problem.
However, to solve the second one, the province will need the support of the RCMP, and the Mounties have, unfortunately, so far failed to offer a similar statement of unequivocal support for the recommendations.
To take the first problem first: Braidwood minced no words in condemning the province's "abdication of its responsibility" to set province-wide standards for Taser use, a failure that has resulted in little consistency in training programs and use of Tasers among the province's 11 municipal police forces.
Braidwood was similarly blunt in his conclusion that Tasers can cause serious injury or death. While lamenting the state of medical research in this area, Braidwood wrote that Tasers "do have the capacity (even in healthy adult subjects) to cause heart arrhythmia, which can lead to ventricular tachycardia and/or fibrillation, which if not treated immediately, can cause death."
Nevertheless, Braidwood concluded that on balance, society is better off with Tasers than without them, provided significant changes are made with regard to their deployment.
Those changes include deploying the weapon only when the subject is causing bodily harm or will imminently cause bodily harm.
Even then, Braidwood advised that the Taser not be deployed if de-escalation or crisis intervention could be effective, especially when dealing with someone in psychiatric crisis.
This is a significant step up from the current threshold -- "active resistance" -- which allows police to Taser an individual who is merely walking or running away. In fact, police in B.C. have used Tasers more than 160 times on people who were cooperative or passively resistant.
Braidwood made further important recommendations concerning the officer training, safety and the testing of the weapons.
Heed confirmed that the province has already begun implementing the recommendations. To that end, he issued a directive to police on Thursday, and said, "I am confident that every police officer in the province will follow my directive regardless of the colour of their uniform."
By "colour of their uniform," Heed obviously meant to include the RCMP, and that leads us to the second problem. Although 70 per cent of British Columbians live in areas policed by the RCMP, and although RCMP officers have deployed Tasers in B.C. more times than all municipal police forces combined, the province has little constitutional authority over the federal force.
Consequently, the province can't force the RCMP to comply with its directives; the RCMP must voluntarily agree to be bound. And unfortunately, the Mounties have yet to signal their willingness to follow provincial policy.
Instead, they issued a press release stating that they will "review and assess" Braidwood's recommendations.
The release also states that the Mounties already employ a high threshold for Taser use -- a threshold that was, incidentally, explicitly rejected by Braidwood.
It's not clear, then, if the RCMP will accept Braidwood's recommendations. But if they don't, Braidwood recommended that as a precondition to B.C. renewing its contract with the RCMP in 2012, the province should require that the RCMP contractually agree to comply with the province's policies on Tasers.
In other words, either the Mounties accept B.C. policies or B.C. doesn't accept the Mounties. This might sound harsh, but it's in the RCMP's -- and British Columbia's -- best interests, since Braidwood's recommendations can help police to continue saving lives, rather than putting police at risk of taking them.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Saturday, July 25, 2009
July 25, 2009