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Friday, October 09, 2009

New stun-gun guidelines concern Winnipeg police

October 9, 2009
CBC News

Winnipeg police are being retrained in how to use stun guns after new guidelines were set down by the manufacturer, Taser International.

The guidelines adopted by the Winnipeg Police Service instruct officers to refrain from targeting the chest area, to avoid an impact on the heart.

Deputy Chief Shelly Hart said over the past two days the police service has been advising officers on the new guidelines.

"This went out to all the units, all the front line units who have access and use Tasers," she said.

Mike Sutherland, head of the Winnipeg Police Association, said the changes are causing concern for some officers, who are nervous about making an accurate hit in a volatile situation.

Because the target area is now lower, it increases the likelihood of striking the groin, he said.

"It's going to be harder too, I think, to get an effective deployment," Sutherland said. "It'll be harder to thread the needle as I said, because of targeting.

"And of course, if you inadvertently do strike some area outside the targeting zones that are recommended, I imagine there's probably going to be significant costs in terms of legal bills. Our members just want to get reassurances from the police service that we are going to be indemnified."

City Coun. Gord Steeves, chair of the city's standing policy committee on protection and community services, supports the changes.

He has requested the police service provide him later this year with statistics on the number of stun guns they have at their disposal and how often they are used.

Braidwood inquiry recommendations
The guidelines by Taser International stem from the Braidwood inquiry into the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, who was shocked by RCMP officers at Vancouver airport in 2007.

The recommendations said police services should test their existing stun guns every year and must test new devices before they are used by officers.

The recommendations also provided clearer direction to police on the use of stun guns. In Winnipeg, they are now limited to when an officer believes there is a "real likelihood" a subject will cause injury to themselves, the officer or a bystander.

The flight of a suspect in itself would not be grounds for firing a stun gun.

The Braidwood report was the first of two coming from the provincial inquiry prompted by Dziekanski 's death on Oct. 14, 2007.

Dziekanski is recorded as the 18th person in Canada to die in recent years after being shocked by a stun gun. Amnesty International says at least 280 people have died since July 2001 in the United States.

Taser International has stressed the devices have never been directly blamed for a death.

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