Friday, February 13, 2009

RCMP admit dangers of tasers and establish new policy for use and training

On February 12, 2009, RCMP Commissioner William Elliot appeared before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security to update them on changes to RCMP taser policies and training following the release of Standing Committee's June 2008 Report.

The RCMP now acknowledge that tasers or Conducted Energy Weapons, as they are now called, can be deadly particularly in cases of "acutely agitated individuals." As a result, enhanced training and policies on use were put into place in June. According to the new policy, tasers can only be used "where it is necessary to do so in circumstances of threats to officer or public safety." In addition, officers are required to report all uses of the taser including cases where it is drawn but not used.

Whether these changes will reduce the use and deaths associated with what Commissioner Elliott refers to as a "useful weapon" remains to be seen. The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association has called for a moratorium on the use of tasers.

It will be interesting to see what impact the changes have on the recommendations that will be produced once the Braidwood Inquiry in Vancouver is completed. The Braidwood Inquiry was established following the death of Robert Dzierkanski at Vancouver's International Airport in October of 2007. Dzierkanski was tasered five times.

Posted by Professor Tanovich and Robert Tarantino

1 comment:

  1. While the RCMP's new policy with respect to the use and training of tasers is encouraging, regional police forces should not be expected to establish and follow similar policies. Following the RCMP's announcement on Thursday, the Calgary Police announced that they will not follow the policies of the RCMP, where the RCMP stated that the Mounties will only use tasers on "resistant suspects," and only when warranted for the safety of the officer and the public. This higher threshold is welcome news to the families of Ian Bush, Robert Dzierkanski and numerous others.

    However, the Calgary Police said that Calgary police members will use tasers "where a subject demonstrates assaultive/violent/suicidal behaviour or actively resists lawful arrest/apprehension or attempts to flee lawful arrest/apprehension." Herein lies the problem-this remains an overly broad framework for the use of tasers. One of the objectives of the Commission's report was to clearly delineate a more restictive, yet responsible approach to the use of tasers- one that is responsive to both public, officer and suspect safety. A corollary of this was the use by RCMP officers of alternative use of force, which would restrict taser use to the most exceptional circumstances. The use of batons, pepper stray, or physical restraint are all alternatives- making the taser truly a measure of last resort after all others have been thoroughly exhausted.

    In addition, unlike the RCMP's pronouncement on Thursday, the Calgary police did not mention or acknowledge that tasers cause death in "acutely agitated" suspects. The choice to retain the current guidelines and protocal and not adopt clearly delineated restrictions on taser use, means that the broad paramenters for use of tasers among members of the Calgary police force may have the implication of not taking into account an "acutely agitated" suspect. Clearly, some individuals under Calgary polices' current guidelines may very well be "acutely agitated."

    While the RCMP and regional police forces are separate bodies, a national policy on tasers is necessary; a streamlined policy on taser use across jurisdictions. A coordinated national strategy and policy has the implication of not only raising public awarness of tasers, but also enhancing accountability among those that have the authority to use them.

    While the foregoing discussion takes account of the current reality of continued taser use among the RCMP and regional police forces, the best policy with respect to preventing future taser deaths remains the following: an absolute moratorium on tasers.