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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Vancouver cops credit 'clear guidelines' with Taser use drop

The Vancouver Police Department has dramatically curtailed the use of its Tasers with officers having only fired the stun gun twice this year compared to 93 times in 2006.
Statistics show the VPD recorded seven incidents—three in one day in February—where the Taser was involved, with two cases where it was fired.

In the other five incidents, officers unholstered the Taser but did not have to fire the 50,000-volt gun to arrest a suspect, according to incident reports posted on the VPD’s website.

The dramatic decrease in Taser use began after the recorded high of 93 times it was deployed in 2006 dropped to 74 in 2007. Usage dropped further in 2008 to 27 times.

Const. Jana McGuinness, a VPD media relations officer, said the department has 101 officers trained and carrying the Taser, which is far fewer than in previous years.

“And those who do carry it are under tighter scrutiny,” McGuinness said in an email to the Courier. “The new Police Act sets outs very clear guidelines on when the [Taser] may be used, and the legislated usage is much narrower in scope than in 2007. Simply put, the [Taser] is not used in as wide a variety of circumstances as it once was. This alone will account for a decline in usage.”

David Eby, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said the decline is “good news” considering the battle his organization waged several years ago to get a moratorium on the use of Tasers in the province.

The civil liberties association requested the moratorium the same month Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski died in October 2007 at the Vancouver International Airport after RCMP officers fired a Taser at him several times.

“The only bad news about this is that Robert Dziekanski and others have had to die in order for us to get to this number,” said Eby, noting the high profile of the Dziekanski case and the subsequent inquiry into his death. “This is great news. I think that the police are now using the device much more carefully, as they should have been during the beginning.”

The first VPD incident this year requiring a Taser to be fired occurred Feb. 1 in the north lane of 13th Avenue and Ontario Street. Officers boxed in a car, whose occupants were suspected of robbery, kidnapping and a carjacking involving a knife.

Police said the driver attempted to escape.

“The Taser was deployed and the driver was pulled from the driver’s seat and arrested,” said the incident report. “He was assessed at Vancouver General Hospital and then taken to jail.”

In a March 9 incident, officers were called to check on the welfare of an “emotionally disturbed woman” inside a suite in the 1400-block of West 14th Avenue.

The woman made verbal threats, was armed with knives and indicated she had a gun. A VPD emergency response team stormed the suite after a six-hour standoff.

Police fired a Taser and Arwen gun when the woman confronted officers with knives in hand, said the incident report. The woman was taken to hospital for a mental health assessment and is facing weapons charges.

McGuinness noted that in about 75 per cent of incidents involving a Taser, the suspect surrenders after police unholster the stun gun so it is in plain view.

In June 2004, Robert Wayne Bagnell died at the scene after police fired a Taser twice at him during an arrest at the Old Continental Hotel at 1390 Granville St.

Dr. Laurel Gray, who conducted the autopsy, testified at a coroner’s inquest she considered the Taser’s role in Bagnell’s arrest but determined the medical cause of death “was consistent with restraint-associated cardiac arrest due to or as a consequence of acute cocaine intoxication and psychosis.”

The five-man jury agreed and gave no recommendations.

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