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Thursday, May 06, 2010

RCMP Taser policy praised by ex-watchdog head

May 6, 2010
CBC News

The RCMP's new rules for using Tasers will help prevent police from using the stun guns beyond necessary situations, said the former chair of an independent RCMP watchdog.

Paul Kennedy, who chaired the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP until Dec. 31, praised the national police force's move this week to revise its policy on stun guns.

Under the new rules, officers are limited to using their stun guns only if a person is causing bodily harm, or if an officer has "reasonable grounds" to believe a person will "imminently" harm someone.

Officers must give a verbal warning, "where tactically feasible," that they are about to use the shock weapons, according to the policy.

'Comprehensive policy'

"It's a very comprehensive policy, and it certainly addresses the major concerns that I had," Kennedy told CBC News on Wednesday.

The commission has demanded more explicit rules on when officers can use shock weapons such as Tasers.

The RCMP's policy changes come in response to the B.C. inquiry into the October 2007 death of Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver International Airport, as well as new Taser guidelines in Alberta.

The new policy also addresses persistent criticism from human-rights advocates that the Taser was often being used to make people obey police commands, not to defuse the most serious threats.

Before his term expired last year, Kennedy issued a scathing review of the RCMP's use of a Taser on a 15-year-old girl at the Arctic Tern Young Offenders Facility in Inuvik, N.W.T., in March 2007.

Taser use unjustified in N.W.T. case

Kennedy ruled an RCMP officer was not justified in using the stun gun on the girl, who at the time was handcuffed and held face down on the floor by jail staff.

Prior to Kennedy's ruling, two RCMP investigations had cleared the officer of any wrongdoing, as did a similar investigation by the Northwest Territories Justice Department. The police force said it has accepted nearly all of Kennedy's findings.

Chief Supt. Wade Blake, the head of the RCMP in the N.W.T., said the new Taser policy gives officers a clearer direction on when to use the devices, which are also known as conducted energy weapons, or CEWs.

"The old policy gave a fair bit more discretion to officers in regards to combative subjects," Blake said. "The new policy more aligns the use of the CEW with direction from the Criminal Code."

Blake said Taser use in the Northwest Territories has declined steadily in recent years. Officers in the territory have unholstered or used stun guns three times so far this year. In all of 2007, they used the weapons 51 times.

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