Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Baby Steps

Its been said that the greatest journey begins with the smallest step.

And thus it was that the Chairman of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP (CPC) issued an interim report finding that the RCMP should only use tasers as an alternative to lethal force, not as an "intermediate" device such as pepper spray. This is significant as it means that the taser should only be used in situations where a person is being “combative” or poses a risk of “death or grievous bodily harm” to the officer, themselves or the general public.

Paul Kennedy, the author of the report, was asked to advise on the use of the electric stun gun after the death of Polish citizen Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver airport on Oct. 14. Although the report does not recommend an outright moratorium on Taser use by the RCMP, it calls for more accurate and meaningful data to be collected on Taser use, finding that current policy has evolved without "adequate, if any, reference to the realities of the weapon's use by the RCMP."
"The change would mean it would only be used when an individual is being combative" or posing a risk of "death or grievous bodily harm" to the officer, themselves or the general public, says the report.

Currently, RCMP policy classifies Tasers as an "intermediate" device, placing it in the same category as pepper spray.

That classification allows Mounties to use the weapon when someone is deemed "resistant."

As a result, the Commission feels the weapon can be used "earlier than reasonable."
What? Is taser use a problem or something?

Although the largest, the RCMP is just one police force operating in Canada. And yet, some 2,800 tasers are being used by the its more than 9,100 members across the country; the RCMP alone have wielded the electronic guns over 3,000 times since their introduction in December, 2001. Yet no annual report has ever been produced, nor has the force thoroughly examined its statistical information on taser use in developing related policy. Gee, anybody else see a potential problem here?

Other recommendations included in the interim report include:
• changing the RCMP's taser training program to reflect its status as an impact weapon
• requiring recertification in taser use every two years
• requiring and enforcing stricter reporting requirements every time a taser is used and
• creating an RCMP national “use-of-force” co-ordinator to oversee policies, techniques and equipment

Although some are already taking issue with the recommendations (RCMP Commissioner William Elliott has expressed concern that barring the use of tasers might force officers to use guns, batons, or other methods to apprehend people in some cases), personally, I think its a great start. I don't think that tasers should necessarily be outlawed. But I do think we need to be very careful to ensure that they are used responsibly.

The biggest potential pitfall is, as always, political.
“I will review this interim report before commenting further,” Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said Wednesday. “Our government takes this matter seriously and recognizes that Canadians must have full confidence in their national police force.”
The Executive Summary on Tasers by the Chair, Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP can be found here. For any so inclined.

1 comment:

absolutelytrue said...

It's a step, albeit baby, in the right direction. Great post!