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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Taser standards sought in Saskatchewan

July 28, 2009
James Wood, The StarPhoenix

The Saskatchewan Police Commission wants a provincewide protocol on what situations Tasers can be used in by police officers, whether or not front-line officers end up equipped with the weapons at the end of an ongoing review.

The government-appointed independent commission is currently studying the Taser issue and issued a statement Monday saying that last week's Braidwood report -- which set much more stringent standards for use of the conducted energy devices by British Columbia police -- would be relevant but not decisive to its work.

Under police commission rules for Saskatchewan's municipal police services, Tasers currently can only be utilized by members of special weapons and tactical teams.

However, the three services with SWAT teams -- Saskatoon, Regina and Prince Albert -- set their own protocol for Taser use by SWAT team members.

Murray Sawatsky, executive director for the provincial police commission, said Monday that the commission wants to see provincewide standards for use of the devices by police.

"There is no specific policy right now. The individual police services have developed their own. And I think that's what the commission wants to do . . . make a policy that applies to all use of them, by tactical teams as well," he said in an interview.

RCMP in Saskatchewan are not regulated by the police commission and front-line officers do carry Tasers. The B.C. government and retired judge Thomas Braidwood want the RCMP to follow his report's recommendations but the force is non-committal at this point.

Among the recommendations of the first of two reports by Braidwood, who oversaw the inquiry into the 2007 death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski after he was Tasered by RCMP at the Vancouver airport, were changes to the protocol around Taser use.

Instead of being allowed to use them when a suspect shows "active resistance," there will have to be a threat of the suspect inflicting "bodily harm."

Chief Clive Weighill said that is in line with the Saskatoon Police Service's current protocol on using the devices and would continue to be so even if front-line officers are ultimately equipped with Tasers, as he advocates.

"Conducted energy devices (are) right under . . . the use of a firearm. That's how restricted we see the use of this weapon," he said in an interview Monday.

"Some police forces have put this weapon lower on their continuum (of force). So they've been using it at what I would say is a lower level. Maybe sometimes other tactics could be used."

Tasers can be used to both subdue suspects or to force compliance. But Weighill said police should never use the weapons for the latter purpose.

Weighill said he would support a province-wide protocol on Taser use for municipal police services, noting that policies between the services are already similar.

Regina deputy chief Bob Morin said he was reluctant to talk about the SWAT team policy on Taser use, but said Taser use must be approved ahead of time by a superior officer.

"I can probably say this much. . . . We believe (Tasers) to be a less-than-lethal device and that it may be applicable to control violent offenders without putting officers or the community at risk," he said.

Weighill said he also had no problem with any of the 19 recommendations in retired judge Thomas Braidwood's report and that they are broadly similar to existing policies in Saskatoon.

Among Braidwood's recommendations:

- That Tasers only be deployed to enforce federal criminal offences;

- That Taser use on the emotionally disturbed be used as a last resort; and

- That provincial standards be adopted for rigorous and regular training of officers, testing of devices and reporting on use.

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