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Thursday, December 15, 2011

New Taser rules for BC police

December 15, 2011
The Canadian Press

The B.C. government says it's now implemented all of the recommendations for the police use of Tasers that came out of the inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver airport four years ago.

Solicitor General Shirley Bond says she's approved new policing standards for the weapons and the rules will apply to all officers working in B.C., including the RCMP.

The standards flow from the Braidwood Commission, which examined the incident in which Dziekanski died after being struck several times with a Taser during a confrontation with four Mounties at Vancouver airport in 2007.

Braidwood recommended police get better training on Tasers, that the weapons only be used if there's a danger a suspect will cause bodily harm, and that officers be trained in crisis management.

Bond says in addition to implementing all of Braidwood's recommendations, the government is bringing in new standards for video surveillance in police buildings.

These rules follow the death of Ian Bush, who was shot to death during a struggle in the RCMP detachment in Houston, in northwest B.C., in 2005.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Purchase of Tasers for DPS questioned

December 10, 2011
JJ Hensley, The Arizona Republic

The Department of Public Safety set out to purchase 800 Tasers and accessories in 2009 for about $800,000.

But by the time the equipment was delivered, more than 13 months later, the purchase had grown to 1,000 newer-model Tasers and accessories at a cost of more than $1.9 million.

The DPS officer who requested the more expensive, newer model stun gun is a Taser senior master instructor, according to DPS. The instructor, Sgt. Bud Clark, did not have any paperwork on file noting his relationship with the Scottsdale manufacturer, as state law requires for procurement officers, said DPS spokesman Bart Graves.

"We are looking into why he didn't file that paperwork," Graves said.

Records show the department began taking steps to replace its officers' aging Tasers in the spring of 2009, initially getting approval for 500 units at an approximate cost of $400,000.

By the end of that summer, records show that DPS had received an estimate for 800 Tasers and accessories from a Prescott vendor for $880,000.

But the Taser model that DPS priced in the summer of 2009 was becoming increasingly obsolete, and in 2010, Clark requested that the agency amend the contract to cover a new model, the Taser X3.

The newer model was appealing because it included three cartridges that allow officers to simultaneously fire the electrodes at up to three people or fire three shots in more rapid succession.

"We had an 83 percent reduction in officer-injury rates when deploying the Taser. Sixty percent of our deployments do not capture the suspect on the first shot. Three shots will give the officer a better chance of striking on first deploy and further reducing officer injuries," according to a DPS statement on the purchase.

In December 2010, the agency took delivery of 1,000 Taser X3s at a price of about $1,600 each. DPS administrators also turned in more than 400 of the older model Tasers for a rebate of $75 each. The agency said those Tasers were broken.

The money to purchase the Tasers came to DPS through photo-enforcement citations thanks to a legislative measure that earmarked the funds for the purchase of ballistic vests, stun guns and other safety equipment, said Phil Case, DPS' chief financial officer.

"Normally, we wouldn't think of turning over our stock of anything that quickly," Case said. "In this case, we did because of that infusion of photo-enforcement money."

DPS is not the only Valley agency to upgrade its Tasers stock in the past year.

Chandler police will soon start turning over their stock of Tasers after the City Council last month approved the purchase of about 350 Tasers and accessories at a cost of about $470,000. Chandler police chose a different new-model Taser, which the department received for about $300 less each than the DPS models.

DPS Sgt. John Ortolano, president of the Arizona Fraternal Order of Police, said there were concerns about the X3 among officers who have used the device.

"The technology difference is day and night compared to the X26 but the biggest thing is (the X3) is a big bulky item. If you carry it on a drop-leg holster, it's like you strap a cinder block to your leg. Putting it on your duty belt is a better option, but then you start running into problems, because of the girth of the weapon, you have problems getting seat belts off and on," Ortolano said. "The thing is just so big that it's a problem."

Ortolano said the X2 model that Chandler ordered was smaller and more manageable and that it was well known that the smaller model would be available soon when DPS ordered the larger version.

DPS officers would have likely raised concerns about the bulk of the new Tasers had the product gone through the field testing that is common when the agency rolls out new products, Ortolano said.

Rifles were purchased out of the same fund that paid for the Tasers, and Ortolano said officers tested four brands before settling on the Colt tactical rifles they now use.

"Why didn't we buy 20 or 30 (Tasers) and get feedback instead of doing a huge purchase like this," Ortolano asked. "In this particular instance, a lot of people have a lot of questions as to why things appeared to be done differently."

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

EDITORIAL: Zapped by taser backers

December 7, 2011
RICK MARTINEZ, News Observer

I figured the call I made last week for North Carolina's law enforcement agencies to ban their officers from using stun guns and Tasers would be a lonely one. I just didn't realize how lonely. Opposition to my proposal has been nearly universal.

Eric Pagone sent an e-mail that sums up the blowback I've received electronically and in person. Pagone wrote: "Tasers are part of a force continuum. When you remove a tool such as the Taser, which is at the higher end of the continuum, an officer may be forced to resort to deadly force (gun). ... an overwhelmingly large percentage of the population (100%), are susceptible to negative health effects when struck by gunfire.

"Statistics you are referring to sound like people who say some car accident victims died as a result of wearing their seatbelts. The positive impact clearly outweighs the negative for seatbelts and Tasers. For those who don't want to be Tased ... don't live a high risk life style in which run-ins with the law are the norm."

Not surprisingly, I also received a nasty, but professional, response from Steve Tuttle of Taser International, who may have felt blindsided by my conclusions after I called the company inquiring about the status of a $9.2 million federal court judgment against it in the 2008 death of 17-year-old Darryl Turner in Charlotte. For the record, here is Tuttle's original response to me.

"TASER believes the court erred in not allowing evidence of contributory negligence or a jury instruction on contributory negligence by Mr. Turner which would be a complete bar to recovery under North Carolina law. As a result we are seeking judgment to overturn the verdict."

Tuttle also objected to my conclusion that a Taser jolt from a Scotland Neck police officer rendered 61-year-old Roger Anthony brain dead. Tuttle has me on that point. Only a medical official can make that determination. Still, both Tuttle and I agree a Taser was "involved" (Tuttle's word) in events that resulted in Anthony's brain death and expiration after he was taken off life support a few days after his arrest.

Tuttle, and others, accused me of not doing my homework. Not true. I studied the research I could find, including an often-cited study from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center which concluded that Tasers were overwhelmingly safe. But I took Tuttle's advice and read two National Institute of Justice (NIJ) reports issued earlier this year: "Study of Deaths Following Electro Muscular Disruption" and "Police Use Of Force, Tasers And Other Less-Lethal Weapons."

I can see why stun gun supporters like these studies. Both say the chances of a person being killed by a Taser shock are remote, and the report on police use emphatically declares that Tasers lessen the threat of injury to officers and suspects.

However, both also conclude that for some people, a stun gun jolt can be lethal. The question for the officer on the beat is, which people?

Thankfully, some police have implemented restrictions based on research that stun guns can be harmful. Of the 500 police departments surveyed by NIJ, 31 percent forbid stun gun use on pregnant women, 26 percent against drivers of moving vehicles, 23 percent against handcuffed suspects, 23 percent against people in elevated areas (to prevent fall injuries) and 10 percent against the elderly.

Another concern I expressed was that law enforcement officers may reach for their stun guns because it's easy and not because the situation warrants it. NIJ has the same worry. During interviews with officers and trainers, researchers heard comments that hinted at "lazy cop" syndrome, meaning some law enforcement officials found it easier to zap a citizen than to use conflict resolution skills or physically intervene. In its police use study, NIJ found stun guns can be used "too much and too often."

Both reports recommend more study, training and guidelines. Factoring in increased exposure to lawsuits, I call on police chiefs to consider this simple question - are stun guns more trouble than they're worth?

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Manufacturer study: Taser worked fine

December 2, 2011
Pat Bywater, Mead Tribune

MEADVILLE — The Taser a Meadville police officer was using when it struck a resident in the eye does not appear to have been malfunctioning, but investigators may never be able to independently determine where the officer had aimed the Taser.

Those details are the highlights of a report completed by the device’s manufacturer at the request of the City of Meadville. The report was released to The Meadville Tribune as part of a request made by the newspaper under the state’s Open Records Law.

The forensic report from Taser International Inc. dated Nov. 1 is the latest significant development in a case that has had several odd turns.

It all started at 6:15 p.m. Aug. 23 in a church parking lot at 1080 Market St. when Meadville police responded to a call indicating that Market Street resident Michael Mondo was creating a disturbance. The Tribune’s investigation revealed that during the days before the incident the police had been warned by local mental health authorities that Mondo was struggling with paranoid schizophrenia. The officers who responded to the call were aware of this and the Crawford County Mental Health Crisis Team was summoned to the scene by police when the call came in.

Before the crisis team arrived, however, one of the two officers at the scene, Sgt. Glen Peterson, a 32-year veteran of the force, elected to deploy his Taser to subdue Mondo. Meadville Police Chief David Stefanucci recently revealed to the Tribune that Peterson claims Mondo was told to stop moving at least twice but did not comply and kept moving. At that point, according to Stefanucci, Peterson said he aimed the Taser at Mondo’s “low center mass,” not his head.

The Taser shoots out barbs that hook on to a person’s skin or clothes. They are attached to the Taser with wires that carry an electric discharge that disables the person temporarily.

In the Aug. 23 incident, one of the Taser’s barbs impaled Mondo’s right eye, which he later lost after unsuccessful surgeries. Mondo, who disputes the claim that he was suffering from mental health issues the day of the incident, says he has suffered some memory loss after the incident and that his recollection of that day is sketchy. He said he recalls the officers appearing and one of them asking him if he had been drinking. His next memory is of after the Tasering.

The public would not learn of the incident for some time.

It appears that the report of the incident may have been excluded from the police paperwork typically made available to the media. A tipster contacted the Tribune and The Associated Press with information about the incident the week of Sept. 12 and Mondo was not charged with any wrongdoing in the incident until Sept. 14.

In the first media reports about the incident, which were published Sept. 17, The Associated Press indicated Meadville Police Chief David Stefanucci said he had no reports about the Tasering. However, when a subsequent Meadville Tribune open records request revealed evidence that as many as five reports had been filed within a week of the incident, Stefanucci told the Tribune in a story published Nov. 4 that he had been misquoted by The Associated Press, although he said he does not remember exactly what he said. Stefanucci said that he never sought a correction of the story because he did not want to try a potential court case in the media or make any comments that might influence such a case.

The Associated Press is declining comment until an investigation into the claim is complete.

Meanwhile, the city launched an effort to learn more about how the Taser ended up hitting Mondo in the eye. Police policy calls on officers to avoid aiming at the head, and in statements after the incident, Peterson claimed he did not aim at Mondo’s head. As a result, city officials wanted to determine if the Taser perhaps malfunctioned. Stefanucci revealed in a recent interview that he arranged to have the Taser tested by its Scottsdale, Ariz.-based maker.

Under an open records request, the Tribune obtained the Nov. 1 report of the tests, which were conducted Sept. 9. The testers concluded that the Taser appears to be working properly and that “there is no reason not to return the Taser ... to service.” In a subsequent interview with the Tribune, Stefanucci confirmed that the Taser is currently being used by Meadville police.

The Taser testers also reviewed the video automatically taken by the Taser whenever the weapon’s safety is put in the off position. From that video the testers could not determine where the weapon’s laser sight was aimed when it was deployed, or even if the laser was turned on. However, the testers suggested that they might not have been able to detect the laser point due to sunlight at the time of the incident and the quality of the Taser’s video camera.

In part, the report reads: “because the laser aiming device is a low power eye safe red laser, it may not have been visible during the incident. Inside a building or at night it appears bright, however, because it is a low power eye safe laser, it is difficult for the human eye to see the laser, even at very close distances, in sunlight. The ability of the Taser cam to pick up visible details of the laser is less than the human eye.”

In a subsequent interview, Stefanucci said all Meadville police Tasers are configured so that the laser pointer is engaged automatically whenever the device’s safety goes into the off position. He also pointed out that all Tasers are equipped with fixed aiming sights so that officers can aim correctly even when they cannot see the laser point.

Stefanucci said he and Meadville City Manager Joe Chriest discussed sending the Taser to be checked by a company other than its manufacturer, but neither of them were familiar with companies that do that kind of work. “We are looking into it,” said Chriest. “We will have to look at their reputations,” he said.

Mondo’s attorney, Terry Toomey of Meadville, did not criticize the city’s effort to have the Taser tested. “It would seem to me to be reasonable and appropriate to send the Taser to see that it was operational and working as appropriate,” Toomey said. As for sending it to be tested by a company other than Taser, “I’m not sure where else they would take it,” he responded.

Taser cops won't be tried before next fall

December 4, 2011
Marcella Bernardo, CKNW

Four RCMP officers accused of lying when they testified at an inquiry into the death of a man at Vancouver's airport will not go to trial before next fall.

Jury selection for the perjury case against Corporal Monty Robinson and Constables Kwesi Millington, Gerry Rundell and Bill Bentley has been set for October 4th, 2012.

They were all charged in May of this year.

Special Prosecutor Richard Peck determined there was not enough evidence to lay manslaughter or assault charges, but he believes all four men lied under oath when they testified at the Braidwood Inquiry.

In October of 2007, they were involved in the death of Robert Dziekanski... a Polish immigrant who was repeatedly stunned with a Taser.

The maximum penalty for perjury in Canada is 14 years in prison.

Charlotte police find serious problem with new Tasers

December 2, 2011

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Charlotte police are trying to solve an issue with the department's new tasers.

Officials say the main trigger works fine, but they're concerned about something called the "arc switch," and officers use it to test tasers and to threaten suspects before actually firing.

CMPD bought new tasers after a man died after being tased this past summer.

The new tasers were chosen for the specific reason that they are considered safer -- they stop shocking someone after five seconds.

But CMPD learned the arc switch didn't stop after five seconds, which would completely defeat a key feature of the new tasers.

So they say company Taser International is upgrading software to fix the issue.