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Monday, April 05, 2010

Taser cams? Ontario hasn't ruled out outfitting stun guns with video cameras

April 5, 2010
By Romina Maurino, Canadian Press

TORONTO — Tasers with cameras attached to them that produce video evidence when the controversial weapons are used on people is an option Ontario is considering, the provincial government says.

While Community Safety Minister Rick Bartolucci hasn't committed to the move, he said he hasn't ruled it out as part of ongoing discussions about how to best use Tasers.

"No decision has been made, but there is some dialogue with regards to that particular device being attached to the weapon," said Bartolucci, who last week promised tighter rules and standard training for Taser use.

"We're looking at it."

The RCMP is already testing two kinds of cameras that record Taser firings, in Kelowna, B.C., and Moncton, N.B., while Ottawa police have also tested the cameras.

Larry Molyneaux, president of the Police Association of Ontario, said he sees little use for the cameras currently on the market because they provide a limited view of an incident.

"The difficulty is that it only shows you the immediate threat - it doesn't show you what leads up to that, it doesn't show you what occurs after," Molyneaux said.

"You really don't get the whole picture, because a lot of it has to do with what leads up to the incident."

Emile Therien, past president of the Canada Safety Council, said any consideration of the cameras is a small step - and one likely brought on by public pressure after the death of Robert Dziekanski in 2007. Dziekanski died after he was Tasered by four Mounties at Vancouver International Airport in a confrontation that was recorded by a bystander.

That video contradicted some of the statements made by the officers and led to several inquiries, including a two-part probe by retired judge Thomas Braidwood. His final report is due in a few weeks.

Last week, Dziekanski's mother received an apology from the RCMP, as well as a financial settlement.

Therien said he doubts Braidwood will recommend cameras, adding that what's really needed is a national standard.

"What it comes down to is well-trained people, (and) limiting the use of Tasers to those who are well trained," said Therien.

The RCMP, he added, has to make sure there are Canada-wide standards and controls in place, and that they are being followed - especially given the fact that one in 20 of the devices have been acknowledged to fail.

"It's the only electrical product sold in the western world that doesn't have a standard," Therien said.

NDP justice critic Peter Kormos called the incorporation of video cameras into Tasers "naive to the point of being silly."

"This is Star Wars sort of stuff - we all know the quality of the image that you get," Kormos said.

"All this does is underscore the fact that the science around Tasers is far from complete, far from thorough."

Civil liberties groups have also questioned what will happen to the video and audio after they are recorded, and said there should be protocols to ensure the digital recordings cannot be tampered with and are readily made available to police watchdogs.

While the devices would provide more evidence in cases where a person dies after being Tasered, Therien added, the cameras would also amount to an intrusion into a police officer's workplace.

They could make police hesitant to use the weapons - even in situations when they are clearly the better choice.

Of the cameras being tested by the RCMP one is called Taser Cam and is attached to the stun gun. The other, called VIDMIC, attaches to the officer's belt radio. The results from those trials will be analyzed to determine whether one or both of the devices are used more widely by the RCMP.

Both federal and provincial governments have been working on national standards for Taser use, but Ontario moved ahead with its own plan last week.

Ontario has promised tighter rules around the use of stun guns by police, including against pregnant women and children, and promised to amend provincial guidelines to include rules about deployment of the guns as well as standardized training for all users and instructors.

Bartolucci has also said training in Ontario wouldn't be provided by Taser International.

"There are particular needs when it comes to the training, we think that that training should be Ontario-centered, it shouldn't be centered on one particular manufacturer's weapon," he said.

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