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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Police chiefs' links with Taser sniffy

See also: August 15, 2008 Globe and Mail Editorial - More than a perception

See also: August 12, 2008 - Taser International a major sponsor of the 2008 Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police Conference

See also: November 2, 2007 - Taser International a major sponsor of the 2007 Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police conference

October 18, 2009
Robert Marshall , Winnipeg Free Press

Maybe a conflict is only in the eye of the beholder -- even if it's the eye of an ethics adviser. Still, will an alleged relationship between the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and Taser International affect an unsuspecting street cop?

I fully get the Taser manufacturer's product -- stun guns -- and the advantage they can give an officer in difficult circumstances. I also get that they are the most controversial piece of equipment in the police arsenal with a sobering fact becoming increasingly clear: The danger of a Taser's 50,000 volts increases with the target's abnormal increases in blood pressure, heart rate, exhaustion and so on. In other words, in the heightened and volatile situations for which the weapon is designed.

The chiefs of police support of Taser International's product has been unwavering since being introduced. In 2007, the president of the police chiefs' association, Steven Chabot, said that Tasers have "a solid track record for safety." The same communiqué reported that the chiefs would continue to look at new developments in directed energy technologies. And, in February 2009, the chiefs' association released its position paper, offering its continued endorsement.

But the status quo changed recently, only when Taser International made new recommendations that Canadian police brass couldn't adopt fast enough.

Officers are now being instructed to aim for areas such as the gut or legs (but not the groin) and to avoid the traditional, easier to hit, centre-mass. While police administrators write Taser International's corporate guidance into policy, the cop on the street might consider enrolling in Calamity Jane's school of trick shots.

Most striking in the new guidelines is Taser International's self-admitted attempt to avoid "the controversy" while "increasing safety margins and enhancing the ability to defend such cases in post-event legal proceedings."

I can't imagine average cops from across the country being anything other than disappointed with their agencies subscribing to the same source of corporate tutelage that at one time promoted the weapon as a near risk-free implement. Or at least safe enough to use real live officers as targets and training aids.

The new guidelines may well increase the danger for the street officer who uses the weapon -- physically, if the two separate electrical probes miss the now-more-difficult mark and legally, should the charge land in the chest area, contravening manufacturer and department edicts.

There will be legal chop-licking in the aftermath of the next Taser-related death. And it will be the front-line cop -- the lowest wrung on the ladder -- on which all eyes will focus.

Why, in the last few years, have Tasers become the must-have tool? There's a long list of legitimate reasons, but it's one of the not-so-good possibilities that sticks out like a sore thumb.

Each year, the police chiefs hold a national meeting that goes beyond issues of public safety. For sure, the meeting's a perk. And every year corporate sponsors donate cash to keep the chiefs and their parties entertained.

Last spring, according to the Globe and Mail's pro-cop columnist, Christie Blatchford, one sponsor picked up most of the tab for $215,000 worth of Celine Dion tickets for the six-figure-salaried police executives and their entourages. Meals for the 2008 conference were taken care of, too.

Taser International had been a top, platinum sponsor (meaning a minimum donation of $25,000) for a number of years. Rumour had it that the company made a $200,000 donation to the 2008 meeting in Montreal, something that was denied by the chiefs.

The country's senior cops who attend these million-dollar meetings are the ones that swing the big sticks when deciding with whom to do business. That would include Taser International. That didn't sit well with John Jones, the chiefs' former ethics adviser who quit earlier this year when he couldn't convince the highfalutin' board of directors that the incestuous relationship between big businesses and police decision-makers (and the freebies) "didn't pass the smell test." The chiefs, perhaps realizing they were on some pretty thin ice, dropped Taser International from their listed sponsors for its 2009 Charlottetown gathering.

But was it too late? Is there anything to the allegation of conflict? Is there a perception that Taser International has undue sway with the police chiefs and with the new rules? Will the next cop involved in an awry stun gun matter be left holding more than his fair share of the legal bag?

Sounds like an expensive free lunch.

Robert Marshall is a security adviser and former Winnipeg police detective.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Plain and simple sleeze. They should be ashamed of themselves.