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Monday, October 12, 2009

Toronto Police followed notice to aim Tasers lower

Toronto Police changed its Taser use policy following a directive to avoid a suspect's chest when deploying the weapons.

The change was made over two weeks ago after Taser International, the weapon's manufacturer, issued a bulletin instructing users not to aim the weapon at suspect's chest area in order to avoid impact to the heart.

"What it says is to aim slightly lower and stay away from the upper chest area," Mark Pugash, police spokesperson said.

The force's Taser use training program has already been adjusted to reflect the changes, Pugash said, and all front-line officers have already been informed of the change.

Nearly two years ago, Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski died after being hit by a Taser at Vancouver International Airport.

Dziekanski, who was approached by four RCMP officers, died within minutes of being jolted.

In its training bulletin, the company said that by avoiding the chest area, it lessens the controversy about whether the jolts do or do not affect the heart.

The risk of a cardiac arrest after the weapon was deployed was "extremely low," according to the company.

Pugash would not comment on risks involved with using Tasers, saying only that Toronto Police strives to comply with all safety information as soon as it's made available.

He says Toronto Police offers twice as much Taser training as prescribed by the manufacturers.

According to Toronto Police reports, officers deployed Tasers 122 times last year.

The RCMP and OPP, as well as police forces in Vancouver, Calgary and Winnipeg have also changed their policies following Taser's bulletin.

Ontario Provincial Police Sgt. Joe Bosie said Sunday that officers received a memo about the new policies last week.

"It makes sense," said Bosie. "Those probes or needles are very sharp and if you were to discharge a Taser in or above the heart area like the neck or eyes it could cause serious injury."

Spokespersons for York, Peel and Durham regional police were unavailable to discuss the matter.

John Tackaberry, spokesperson for Amnesty International Canada, said that adjusting the location of where police aim their Tasers "isn't a solution to the problem."

"It's not the location of the Tasers," he said. "It's the impact the Tasers themselves have on bodies."

The group is calling for a full suspension of Taser use until more questions have been answered about the impact they have on people's bodies.

Paul Lochner, whose 43-year-old brother George was jolted with a Taser by the Toronto emergency task force during a raid in 2006, agrees that the change isn't enough. He, too, would like to see Tasers banned.

"These are the same people who said a couple weeks ago that 'no, you can shoot in the heart, it has no effect.' Now they're saying this," he said.

His family is currently involved in a lawsuit related to the incident with Toronto Police.

"Tasers clearly cause permanent injury and death. They scar families and shouldn't be used."

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