May 5, 2010
Sarah Boesveld, Globe and Mail
It was the top of the eighth inning when 17-year-old fan Steve Consalvi hopped the fence at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia and dashed around the outfield – a silly stunt, just for fun.
Fans watched the 30-second chase during the pause in the game against St. Louis on Monday night. They cheered Mr. Consalvi on as he scurried away from security officials and twirled a white Phillies fan towel.
As quickly as it began, they saw the youth crumple in a heap in the outfield – tasered by security officials, unable to wave his white towel in surrender. They booed loudly.
Footage of the chase, quickly posted on the Internet, went viral, igniting a fierce debate online about whether it was necessary to deploy a taser – and whether unnecessary zapping in public spaces such as stadiums and malls is happening more often.
Officials stood behind the Philadelphia city police officer who deployed the taser at the game, and said he followed protocol that allows officers to taser a fleeing suspect. But critics were quick to point out it wasn’t the first time an officer has tasered a fan at Citizens Bank Park. Local reports say fans have been tasered there many times before.
In Canada, the debate has moved far more in favour of restricting the use of the weapons even as more of them are in the hands of police officers nationwide as a safer alternative to guns and other weapons.
On Tuesday, the RCMP announced tighter guidelines for Mounties deploying tasers. They can now fire a stun gun only if it’s clear the person is injuring someone else or threatening to do so.
The changes stem from the Braidwood public inquiry into the death of Polish airline passenger Robert Dziekanski after officers tasered him at the Vancouver Airport.
Ontario introduced new guidelines and training standards in March after launching a study of its policies in 2008. Back then, the province relied on training from the companies selling the weapons.
Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair is trying to get more tasers into the hands of front-line workers and properly train them to deploy them because a supervisor is not always there to give direction in the heat of the moment, says Toronto Police spokesperson Mark Pugash.
At least 246 Torontonians were tasered last year, a number that’s dropped since 2008, he said. Special constables on the Toronto Transit Commission do not use tasers, only batons, handcuffs and a foam version of pepper spray.
While officials patrolling the SkyTrain in Vancouver use tasers, security in most public spaces such as university campuses and stadiums is delivered by private firms whose guards can’t use them. They’re prohibited weapons under the Private Security and Investigative Services Act in Ontario, and only police officers are authorized under the Criminal Code to carry them.
Employees at the Rogers’ Centre in Toronto are armed with batons and handcuffs, a worker there said last night. And Blue Jays president Paul Beeston, reacting to the Phillies fan tasering, said a case like that wouldn’t happen at his stadium.
“I can't believe that there would be anybody who would use a taser gun on somebody who ran on the field,” he said. “I can't believe that would happen here.”
That’s likely because about 95 per cent of security at stadiums is delivered by private firms, said David Hyde, owner and principal consultant at David Hyde & Associates, a security consulting practice.
Still, there’s no guarantee an incident similar to what happened in Philadelphia couldn’t happen here, he said.
If it’s a big game, stadiums often hire police officers for extra cover and those officers could be armed with tasers, as well as guns.
But because of a largely public outcry against the use of tasers, the chances of deployment are slim.
“A stadium is trying to attract customers,” he said. “The last thing they want to do, particularly in Canada, is to deploy weapons that could not only cause legal but reputational harm to that image.”
Police in the United States are more willing to use tasers at major events and at stadiums because the perceived level of threat is higher, he said, in terms of terrorism and violent crime.
Hilary Homes, a security and human rights campaigner for Amnesty International Canada, said the Braidwood inquiry has shaped public opinion and shone a brighter light on the unnecessary use of tasers. However, broader oversight and guidelines on how and when they should be used just doesn’t exist, she said. “There aren’t national standards on either side of the border,” she said. “There are such separate jurisdictions.”
Unnecessary deployment is happening more frequently because “new items are available and people want to use them.”
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Wednesday, May 05, 2010
May 5, 2010