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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Ontario MPP eyes increased funding for Tasers

March 20, 2010
IAN MCINROY, Barrie Examiner

Simcoe North MPP Garfield Dunlop will be reintroducing a private member's resolution on Monday, asking the government to provide funding to equip and train all front-line police officers with conducted energy weapons (CEW), often called Tasers.

Currently, the Police Services Act allows only members of tactical teams and patrol supervisors to use them.

"The Progressive Conservative caucus feels that, with training, the use of conducted-energy weapons by front-line police officers can help keep our communities safe," Dunlop said. "We will look closely at the budget when it's announced next week to see what, if anything, will be allocated to this important initiative."

Barrie's top cop thinks Dunlop's resolution has merit.

"If an officer is already carrying a lethal weapon, why not let them carry a less-than-lethal weapon," Barrie Police Chief Wayne Frechette said. "That doesn't seem to me to be a great stretch."

A CEW report created through the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, is expected to be made public at the end of March and address use of Tasers, policies and procedures, Dunlop said.

"Our understanding is the report will be very proactive in the use of having front-line officers with Tasers," he said. "We want the government to follow through and equip more frontline officers."

Laura Blondeau, spokesperson for Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Rick Bartolucci, says the ministry has no current plans to change its legislation on CEWs.

"We have no intention at this time from changing our approach to Tasers, or CEWs in Ontario," she said. "Right now the protocol that is in place is something that we will continue to employ."

Frechette said if the Police Services Act was changed to allow the use of Tasers by front-l ine officers (after extensive training), it could be another tool in their crime-fighting arsenal.

"The issue will arise. Is this going to mean more use of Tasers?" Frechette said. "Of course, the more people who have them, the more they will be used. That speaks to the strict control of their use."

Amnesty International says 17 people have died in Canada since 2001 as a result of being shocked with a conducted energy weapon.

Frechette acknowledged there have been fatalities related to Taser use, but said other circumstances lead to the deaths.

"The cause of death has never been specifically linked to Tasers," he said.

"There is an element of risk in any use of force. A Taser is not a lethal weapon, but it is a step up from pepper spray," he added

The chief said there is a time and place for using such a weapon.

"Their use is not an everyday event. If someone is going berserk and you can't talk them down in short order, that would be an appropriate use," he said. "You Taser them to avoid injury to the officer, the suspect or possibly a bystander."

Police are trained to deal with stressful situations without using undo force, Frechette said. "If someone is arguing with an officer about a speeding ticket, that would obviously not be an appropriate use."

Even the possibility of being stunned with a Taser is enough to subdue a suspect, he said.

"Sometimes you just have to show it to someone for it to be effective," he said. "We've arrested a number of people and we're finding, anecdotally, that as soon as the Taser comes out, they're saying 'OK, we'll get back into the car'," he said.

The Police Services Act requires police forces to report their use of Tasers to local police service boards.

"The not so good news is the use of the Taser," Frechette said.

In 2008, city police displayed their Tasers 14 times and used them eight times. Last year, they were displayed 21 times and used 13 times.

"What is down is use-of-force incidents across the board," he added.

There were 92 incidents in 2009, where Barrie police drew firearms 32 times, and 102 incidents in 2008, when weapons were drawn 37 times.

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