June 10, 2010
The Daily Gleaner
The annual national meeting of the Canadian Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement is being held in Fredericton this week, and among the topics delegates examined is Taser use by police officers.
It's certainly a controversial issue about which there have been vigorous debates in recent years.
We were pleased to see that one of the conference's speakers - Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada - acknowledges that Tasers and similar conductive weapons have a role to play in law enforcement.
However, he rightly points out that Ottawa needs to take the lead and establish clear standards for Taser use.
There's no denying that some police and security officials in North America have employed Tasers in inappropriate ways and unnecessarily given the circumstances of specific situations.
If officers were informed of clear limits on use of the weapons, and if they were trained properly, Tasers would become a more effective and appropriate tool for law-enforcement, Mr. Neve suggested.
We agree, but we feel other limits and stricter guidelines are necessary as well - for those wielding these weapons.
Setting new federal restrictions on Taser use won't prevent some of the more egregious abuses of the technology that we've seen reported in the news over the past few years.
Guidelines, regulations or orders from on high in a police force can do little to curb terrible judgment. And the most serious of instances of Taser abuse are more often than not the result of serious errors in or complete lacks of judgment on the part of the people pulling the triggers.
We're not suggesting that a lack of good judgment is a widespread problem among police officers. However, it seems undeniable that a few with less than admirable decision-making abilities have made their way through the screening process.
While training is an important part of responsible and appropriate Taser use, so is evaluation.
The casual way a minority of police officers and security officials approach the use of Tasers and like weapons can stem not only from a lack of education and awareness but from shortcomings in attitudes and empathy.
The men and women entrusted with the protection of the public must also consider the well-being of those who violate the laws and the public peace.
Those responsible for training and hiring peace officers must ensure that appropriate psychological testing is not only in place but is always being updated to reflect changing realities of society and the jobs for which these people are being considered.
How a police cadet would view the use of a firearm, for example, could differ a great deal from his or her attitudes about Taser use.
One commenter on our website summed up the argument succinctly Wednesday.
He wrote, "(Tasers) do have their place in law enforcement ... But, it all comes down to the brain behind the Taser."
Furthermore, we would argue that not only must the screening process and restrictions on Taser use be examined and improved, so must the repercussions for instances of Taser misuse be strengthened.
With greater deterrents to misuse should come more responsibility.
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