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Tasers are Coming

August 28, 2013 permalink

Ontario is authorizing all police officers in the province to carry tasers. The justifying incident is the death of teenager Sammy Yatim, shot and killed by police in Toronto last month.

Tasers are claimed to be an alternative to deadly force — Sammy Yatim would likely still be alive had he been shot with a taser instead of bullets. But actual use of tasers differs from the claims. Real data on police use of non-lethal weapons is hard to find, but in this TED talk researcher Stephen Coleman found what happened in Australia. TED link or local copy (mp4). Introduction of non-letal pepper spray caused police use of weapons to jump a thousand-fold. Their use was not restricted to incidents in which the alternative would have been deadly force, but extended to lots of frivolous reasons. The most popular one, rarely in the press, is doing nothing. A policeman issues an order and out of frustration or anger deploys the taser against the disobedient person.

Another critic of tasers is Digby in, captured before expiry by fixcas. Alternate to permalink. With the increased police use of weapons, even a tiny death rate from taser use will cause the number of police killings to go up, not down. After each unnecessary taser death we can expect another of those boilerplate official reports saying that the police did nothing wrong.

With the new policy, over the next few years Ontario will accumulate a few dozen taser deaths and thousands of victims subject to torture for the offense of doing nothing. It is difficult to foresee the ultimate result, but it is safe to say it will not be a more peaceful province.



All Ontario police officers will be allowed to carry Tasers, but budget may limit how many get them

Madeleine Meilleur
'Our goal is to ensure the safety of the public while providing police with the tools they need,' Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur told reporters at the coroner’s courts in downtown Toronto

Front-line Toronto police officers could start carrying stun guns within months, the force’s deputy chief said Tuesday, as the province unveiled an expansion of Ontario’s use-of-force guidelines.

Under the new provincewide policy, all front-line officers will be allowed to wield Tasers, a weapon previously reserved for supervisors and special tactical teams. It will be up to individual police services to decide whether to equip officers with stun guns — but in Toronto, where Chief Bill Blair has long pushed for such a change, the only question was when and how many.

“We’ll make calculations and decisions based on where we think the device will have the best benefit for the community and where it’s needed most,” said Deputy Chief Mike Federico, noting it could be several months to a year before front-line officers start carrying Tasers. In a climate of increasing financial pressures, the deputy chief could not immediately say where the police force will find the necessary funds.

“Financing is a serious consideration. These devices cost around $1,700 apiece, and then there is the ongoing operational,” Deputy Chief Federico said. “[We will need] a careful discussion within the service about making an appropriate allotment.”

The Toronto Police Service currently has about 500 conducted energy weapons, such as Tasers, in its inventory; there are 2,800 front-line officers, but not all officers will need to carry a stun gun, Deputy Chief Federico said.

Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly said while he supports the broader provincial initiative, “I’m not sure that we should take the very expensive step of giving every officer a Taser.” The idea should be further explored through the budget process, Mr. Kelly said, noting the police services board should not look to the city for extra funds.

“Given the size of their budget, I think the police services board should look to itself first,” he said.

At a news conference inside the coroner’s courts in downtown Toronto, Community Safety Minister Madeleine Meilleur, flanked by high-ranking Ontario police officers, told reporters that the province’s new policy on Tasers would reduce the risk of serious injury during violent confrontations. Every province except Quebec allows front-line officers to carry conducted energy weapons, according to ministry data.

Ms. Meilleur rejected suggestions that the controversial death of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim, shot dead and then Tasered by police on a stopped Toronto streetcar, impacted the timing of Tuesday’s announcement. Mr. Yatim, whose family declined to comment on the new provincial policy, died exactly one month ago.

“I feel for the family, I feel for the individual… but I can tell you that this had no impact on the process that we have been following since the beginning,” Ms. Meilleur said, noting the announcement was initially slated for June but got pushed back.

Ontario first authorized Tasers for use by police supervisors and tactical teams in 2002. Over the past decade, a dozen coroners’ juries have made recommendations on expanded Taser use, prompting the province to undertake further study.

All officers must complete 12 hours of training prior to using a Taser, and all incidents of Taser use must be reported and reviewed. While cases such as that of Robert Dziekanski in Vancouver have fuelled fears about the safety of stun guns, Michael Pollanen, Ontario’s chief forensic pathologist, says fatal outcomes are “unusual and quite rare.”

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association swiftly issued a statement Tuesday to highlight its “long-standing concerns” about the appropriate use of stun guns.

“Government focus should be on police receiving improved training and building skill sets to de-escalate crises, rather than expanding weapons deployment,” the statement noted.

But North Bay Police Chief Paul Cook, president of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, says the benefits ultimately outweigh the risks.

“We can all provide real-life examples of situations that could have resulted in tragedy if it wasn’t for the fact that the officer on scene had a [conducted energy weapon],” Chief Cook said. “I think it’s going to be very good for officer safety and for public safety.”

Source: National Post