You may have arrived here via a direct link to a specific post. To see the most recent posts, click HERE.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Tame the Taser

June 26, 2010
By: Marilyn Baker, Winnipeg Free Press

Taser International is now advising customers not to aim at the "chest area" when zapping people.

Apparently you are supposed to aim lower. Yikes.

Maybe they're worried that the fallout from the Braidwood inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski will slow their sales a little. Mr. Dziekanski was Tasered five times moments before he died at the Vancouver airport in 2007.

More likely they're worried that one of these days a lawsuit from a bereaved relative will finally stick, and, somewhere on this continent, some judge will finally decide that, yes, Tasers kill. I won't hold my breath though. The company reportedly spends more on litigation than it makes in profit, and last year boasted that it had won its 100th dismissal of a liability lawsuit.

Someone should tell their lawyers that they still offer an item called Practice Target in the Accessories section of their website which shows the chest as the bull's-eye (US$6.95).

Speaking of their website, it's the very model of a modern Internet shopping site. There are choices for women (picture of young mother with adorable daughter) and law enforcement people, shopping carts to fill, twitters, blogs, even testimonials!

Their marketing is very good, as is demand for their products. In fact, according to their latest investor relations information, share prices have increased.

So, why the sudden reluctance for customers to aim at the chest? Until this recent acknowledgment that tasers can be dangerous, Taser International has been anything but squeamish about using this weapon.

They insist that when "used properly" (they provide a free training DVD), their weapons are low risk.

Amnesty International disagrees. They claim that 334 people have died in the United States following a tTaser zap (2001-2008). In Canada, a CBC report lists, by name, the 26 people who have died proximal to taser use since 2003.

But Taser International insists that a case can be made that without tasers more citizen deaths at the hands of the police might have occurred.

I would like to see evidence to support this proposition. But we may never know. According to former RCMP complaints commissioner Paul Kennedy, the RCMP have engaged in "systemic under-reporting" of taser use.

I am concerned that our police are using Tasers more often and multiple times on the same victim. They were to be used where the only alternative was deadly force, but are now being used on people who are "non-compliant."

Kevin Bogg, assistant deputy minister to the solicitor general ministry for B.C., has stated that "I am very concerned about 'slippage' in taser use, where it is being increasingly used in lower risk situations."

Also, Tasers cause intense pain. Whether death ensues or not, the victim experiences extreme agony. The United Nations has labelled the use of Tasers as torture.

Phase I of the Braidwood inquiry concluded that Tasers can kill. It contains several recommendations, including that Tasers be used only the most dangerous of assaultive Criminal Code behaviours, and that victims of a Tasering get immediate medical attention.

The Phase II report, released June 18, deals specifically with Robert Dziekanski's death and concludes that the RCMP use of the Taser was "shameful" and not justified.

Within an hour of the release of the Phase II report, the RCMP issued an unconditional apology to Mr. Dziekanski's mother for their role in the death of her son.

But Taser International also played a role. Unfortunately, the company does not accept that their stun gun can cause cardiac arrest. According to Rick Guilbault, Taser's VP of Training and Education, the carefully crafted message about avoiding the chest area, "where practical," is "risk mitigation, pure and simple."

I hope that Taser International will face the reality that their weapons do real harm and will revise its corporate and marketing culture.

I doubt it though. I wouldn't be surprised to see a backlash from them on the latest Braidwood report. They have a history of aggressive legal action in defending their products from liability.

This is a very complex issue. Tasers may well be an important part of the arsenal needed to fight crime. But our police need far more restraints, support, guidance and training than are presently given.

Commissioner Braidwood said, "I can't help but think that if the Taser was not there, they perhaps would have reverted to their former skills." Such skills include de-escalating situations and calming people down, not harming them.

I hope that the Braidwood recommendations are implemented by all police forces. Then perhaps Robert Dziekanski will not have died in vain.

1 comment:

Excited-Delirium blog said...

This column by Ms. Baker makes many good points, but it jumps around in history and has some events and milestones out of sequence. Her use of the word "now" is actually incorrect in places. But her heart is in the right place.