August 17, 2009
By Anne Kyle, Regina Leader-Post
REGINA — Talk first; Taser later, if you must.
That's the message the Canadian Mental Health Association put forward Monday, urging that police officers use crisis-intervention techniques instead of Tasers whenever possible when dealing with the mentally ill.
In its brief to the Saskatchewan Police Commission, which is reviewing whether front-line municipal police officers will be allowed to carry Tasers, the association recommended a combination of training and policy changes for the use of conducted-energy devices.
The association's Saskatchewan Division is recommending police officers get training in crisis intervention, and resort to Tasers only as a final alternative before lethal force.
"There are some de-escalating techniques that you can do once you understand what someone, who is psychotic or very anxious, is looking at," said Dave Nelson, the association's executive director.
"Somebody who is psychotic is very likely going to be terrified of police, because they have already got all these paranoid ideas and notions going around in their mind about people out to hurt them, and stuff,'' he said.
"As a police officer, you have got to know about that and the techniques to de-escalate the situation, and you need to try them, first."
If talking doesn't work, then police officers have a whole range of choices, but Nelson said Tasers need to be placed higher up on the scale: immediately before, and only as an alternative to, deadly force in eliminating the risk of bodily harm, when all other options are exhausted.
The RCMP are also recommending Tasers be moved up the use-of-force scale, he said.
Other recommendations included: developing a policy specific to people exhibiting symptoms of mental illness, requiring emergency medical assistance be on standby before deploying a Taser, and restricting its use to a single discharge.
The association also recommends that an independent investigation be made into the long-term health consequences for people who are stunned by the devices.
In July 2008, the Saskatchewan Police Commission placed a moratorium on an earlier decision that would have given the province's 14 municipal and First Nation police services the authority for general use of Tasers.
The decision was placed on hold pending a comprehensive study of the devices, their use and their health effects.
The commission cited the controversies of several high-profile Taser-related deaths, and a shortage of information about the full consequences of the use of the devices.
No one from the commission was available to comment Monday.
This summer, an inquiry report was released into the death of Robert Dziekanski, a Polish man who died after RCMP officers shocked him with a Taser at Vancouver International Airport.
It recommended that the threshold for police using a Taser should be raised from "active resistance" by a suspect, to a threat of the suspect inflicting bodily harm.
Taser International, which produces Tasers, is trying to get the B.C. Supreme Court to quash the report's recommendations.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
August 17, 2009