Sunday, April 20, 2008

Tasers or 9mms?

Tasers have become controversial lately. Without question, the use of tasers on certain individuals are lethal. We all know of the example where the RCMP's use of "Thomas A. Swift Electrical Rifle" killed Robert Dziekansi in Vancouver. Airport security called the RCMP for help after Dziekanski allegedly was pounding on windows and throwing chairs and computer equipment. After engaging Dziekanski with the Taser, the Mounties speculated that he died shortly after from a rare condition called excited delirium, though the coroner's office has not concluded the cause of death.

Not more than a week after Dziekansi's death, a Montreal man was killed after being tazed by by police. Quilem Registre, 38, was intoxicated when he was stopped by police on Oct. 14 for a traffic violation. Police say he became aggressive when questioned and officers were forced to use a Taser. He was sent to hospital in critical condition, where he died Oct. 17. Registre was the 17th person to die from a stun-gun-related death in Canada.

Two prime examples of the National call on a moratorium on the police use of Tasers. So what is the alternative? The handgun? The baton? Pepper spray? More non-lethal weapons that police should use on suspects they approach who may be armed and/or reportedly violent? I have travelled abroad this Country and throughout the world and if ever stopped by an officer of the law, the universal "reach for the gun" method has always been a deterrent for criminals to cease and desist of their behaviour. Unless extremely intoxicated, high, or mentally ill, those who do not understand that an officer has his weapon out usually know that severe consequences will result if they do not abide by the officer's demands.

So how do we keep officer's and the public safe if we lessen an peace officer's ability to subdue a violent suspect by removing Tasers and allowing them to resort to sidearms? I would really hearing from people on this subject as this topic will form part of discussion at the next Federal/Provincial Ministers of Justice and Public Safety Conference held in Quebec this fall.

17 comments:

Autism Reality NB said...

Tasers are used in many non-dangerous situations. Many Canadians, including me, do not believe that the RCMP officers who Tasered the man in the Vancouver incident were justified in doing so. There were FOUR officers on the scene. I saw nothing in the famous video to indicate that four well trained, brave, RCMP officers were in danger. They could have tried such old fashioned police techniques as attempting to communicate with him, by hand gestures for example.

The "Tasers or 9mms" argument ignores the fact that Tasers are used for "non-compliance" with verbal commands. Sometimes those who are Tasered do not understand the command - an immigrant who does not speak English, a person with a mental disorder, or an autistic disorder, for example. People are being Tasered for non-violent even mundane situations.

The UN Committee Against Torture has stated that studies show that Tasers do cause death in some cases and has characterized them as instruments of torture. More than 300 people in North American have died shortly after being tasered. The medical condition of the individuals who died may have been factors but that does not exonerate the Tasers according to the Thin Skull doctrine. The police, like others, take their victims as they find them.

With respect, as Justice Minister and Attorney General of this Province, I hope you take a more sophisticated and informed look at this issue than you have demonstrated in this comment.

Respectfully,

Harold Doherty

T.J. Burke said...

Thanks Harold for your post. In fact, I have lots of information on this subject and understand both sides quite well. The purpose of my rather blunt posting is to engage what others have to say about the subject. I suspected you would post on this topic given your well thought out criticism and opposition to Tasers in the past.

Tasers are no doubt used for compliance purposes along with other forms of police force such as C.S. spray (which have lead to blindness caused by chemical burns to the retina)and bean bag bullets which have caused death to suspects from high impact to the chest. So if a perpetrator is high on PCP wielding a weapon what should officers do? CS spray has been shown to be ineffective on those high on drugs such as PCP etc. Other non-lethal forms, which Tasers generally are, can be just as ineffective when officers confront a violent individual.

Unfortunately, hand gestures do not work with those who chose to ignore police commands. However, irrespective of language when an uniformed officer draws a sidearm the majority of suspects comply. Wouldn't you agree?

Dan F said...

"I have lots of information on this subject and understand both sides quite well"

What a snot nosed response to a reader, TJ - take your punk California soldier crap back to the US and treat this NB father with respect.

You corporate guards and lapdogs have snuffed many a life unnecessarily, and you know it.

Unless you're really a dumb, crooked stooge like Amos is claiming.

If you haven't sued / charged him by now, I guess we have our answer.

Canadian Rods said...

The problem with stories like the one from Vancouver is that these are the stories that make the news and cause an emotional reaction.

Were the tasers misused in that situation? I can't say because I wasn't there but from the video that made the news, it would appear, from the public's perspective, that this was the case. I truly believe that to ban or restrict the taser because of incidents like this one would put our officers and the public in greater danger.

The fact of the matter is, our police forces are faced with a greater danger (and a greater lack of respect) than at any time in history. We need to be aware of that and equip them accordingly. We also need to provide clear guidelines on when and how a weapon, any weapon, should be used. Those guidelines need to be written in conjunction with the police forces so that their hands are not tied by overly restrictive guidelines.

I remember reading a recent report on Fredericton policing and while I don't remember the specifics of the report, I do remember reading that in over 50% of the situations in which the taser was drawn, it was not used. That statistic implies that the mere sight of the weapon was effective in diffusing the situation. That is its purpose and that is why it needs to remain available to our officers.

One important thing to remember in all of this: in every situation an officer is faced with, he/she must be in control. This is imperative. If this is not the case, innocent lives are in danger. It's that plain and simple. If the taser, whether it is used or not, helps an officer maintain control over a situation, lives are protected. The question should not be how many people have died as a result of the taser, but how many lives have been potentially saved.

Canadian Rods said...

By the way, I have to respond to this quote.

"The UN Committee Against Torture has stated that studies show that Tasers do cause death in some cases and has characterized them as instruments of torture."

By definition, any weapon would be categorized this way. Pepper spray has been cited in a number of deaths, so has the baton, and of course, the sidearm. Every single one of these is an instrument of torture and has caused death. Do we ban them all?

jajakoom said...

This is one of those times when I’m glad to see you writing about government policy!

As we both know, seldom are such situations as simple as “either/or?”

I think we have to go back to the introduction of the TASER to see where the current problem might have originated and ultimately led to the Robert Dziekansi situation in Vancouver.

When the TASER was introduced, it was presented as a safe and viable alternative to the handgun for a law enforcement officer. Of course, the “safe and viable” aspect of it was promoted heavily by the TASER company (why else would they show stock quotes on their website?).

Many law enforcement agencies introduced it into their arsenals without really taking the time to examine the weapon and look at its potential consequences … as a result, many of the rules governing firearms were never put in place with the TASER until after the fact. That fact included the deaths you mentioned in your post.

As we both know, there are very tight restrictions on most law enforcement officers in terms of drawing their handgun and even tighter restrictions on firing it. Those restrictions have been slow in coming with the TASER. It’s almost as if the TASER is the first choice for dealing with a combative person rather than the other tools in a police officer’s skill base, including the officer’s presumed ability in physical control of a person.

The Robert Dziekansi case has become a poster-boy scenario for those precise reasons. Watching the video, you see four trained (although apparently inexperienced) RCMP officers approach a man who appears to be out of control. Assuming the video is accurate, within seconds, they had fired the first TASER charge and then followed up with another. To my mind, the distinction between use and abuse entered the scenario at that point. I think that’s the question the justice ministers need to examine.

Like you, I’ve travelled around the world and have seen police departments in various parts of the world who do not routinely carry firearms. Examples right off the top would include England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, India. Those officers are able to subdue a violent suspect without benefit of TASERs.

Perhaps we should spend more time thinking about their approach to law enforcement and less time on defending the new status quo.

RyanW said...

Sigh... Are all these people kidding? If I was a police officer I wouldn't want to risk my life by physically engaging everyone who resisted arrest. Nor, would I want to shoot and kill everybody who resisted arrest. It seems to me that batons, pepper spray, tasers, those sonic and infrared weapons they use at checkpoints in Iraq are all attempts to help authorities subdue people without killing them, and without putting law enforcement people in wrestling matches like I watch on Cops! every Saturday night. I support the use of Tasers and/or any other weapon that helps police do their job without killing and/or putting their own safety at risk. I wish all of you whiners on this post who complain about the evil police and the evil taser coporation were in a situation where you were facing a physically larger, menacing, incoherent, unreasonable person who meant you harm, and that you couldn't just run away. I wish you whiners were trapped in that situation with a 9mm, a taser, and your bare hands. I'd like to see how many of you would choose your bare hands out of concern for the welfare of your assailant. Bunch of Monday Morning Quarterbacks all of you.

mikel said...

Complaints about tazers go from being used as tools of political suppression (the only people REALLY scared are the citizens who may normally want to take part in legal political protest), to being used as tools of torture because they don't leave marks.

The 'bias' here can be seen with the question 'what kind of WEAPONS' should police have? Police have all kinds of protection, they have body armour, they have helmets, they have full length bulletproof shields, and they have the NUMBERS and training. This is NOT a 'what can we do to keep cops safe' issue.

A study by five doctors on deaths in ontario of 'cocaine induced' hysteria (after arrest I mean) showed that the cause of death in those cases was the RESTRAINT. In particular the police use of 'hogtying' and choke holds and chest compression. Of course this NEVER gets mentioned in the press, as the study predates the prevalance of tazers.

The problem is NOT simply 'to taze or not to taze', it is the entire process of arrest-at least in the case of the mentally ill or high (the two are often very closely linked). In other cases, I'm not convinced the tazers have anything to do with it (I got a speeding ticket and pulled over not because the cops had tazers or even weapons at all).

If the person is seen as mentally ill or 'high', then obviously tazers are limited anyway. In some cases when disturbances are called in it can be assessed that its a mental illness or drug case since the behaviour is usually fairly common. One solution would be to have a pychologist or psychiatrist as part of the team, if for not other reason than to verify police reports, which are often less than genuine.

Since the method of arrest is the problem, tazers only being part of that, then that is what needs to be changed. The use of netting or fencing is one solution, or simply isolating the individual until they calm down. In ontario a tazer death resulted from a guy tearing up a hotel room. There is little available in a hotel room for a person to hurt themselves, let alone others. Barricading the doors and having a protected police presence can work just as well while the person 'calms down' from the high or exhaustion.

In short, it may well be that what needs to change is the whole approach to arrest, at least for the mentally ill and drugged. It may well be that the approach that you'd take for somebody attempting suicide may be the best thing to do.

Part of the problem in canada clearly has been the far too frequent use of the tazer. That's something that needs to be changed, so since we know that it causes death, it should be called a lethal weapon, no matter its intent just for the benefit of the regulations (and not just 'impact' weapon which is clearly a band aid).

That has to do with policing in general, while its a hot topic, studies often show that 'uncooperative' behaviour has a lot to do with gender, size and just appearance. There's a reason that police forces are heavily modifying their equipment. Here in Waterloo the cops have switched their new cars to mostly black with cages-very 'scary' and dropped the 'to protect and serve' motto. And thats even though this area has less violent crime than Fredericton. What suffers is society in general, by far I fear the police more than crime, thanks to some earlier experiences.

And that doesn't even get into the issue that many of these problems result from inadequate social legislation and services for the mentally ill and for drug issues in general. These were problems that were predicted when the massive cuts to social programs began in the mid nineties.

mikel said...

Complaints about tazers go from being used as tools of political suppression (the only people REALLY scared are the citizens who may normally want to take part in legal political protest), to being used as tools of torture because they don't leave marks.

The 'bias' here can be seen with the question 'what kind of WEAPONS' should police have? Police have all kinds of protection, they have body armour, they have helmets, they have full length bulletproof shields, and they have the NUMBERS and training. This is NOT a 'what can we do to keep cops safe' issue.

A study by five doctors on deaths in ontario of 'cocaine induced' hysteria (after arrest I mean) showed that the cause of death in those cases was the RESTRAINT. In particular the police use of 'hogtying' and choke holds and chest compression. Of course this NEVER gets mentioned in the press, as the study predates the prevalance of tazers.

The problem is NOT simply 'to taze or not to taze', it is the entire process of arrest-at least in the case of the mentally ill or high (the two are often very closely linked). In other cases, I'm not convinced the tazers have anything to do with it (I got a speeding ticket and pulled over not because the cops had tazers or even weapons at all).

If the person is seen as mentally ill or 'high', then obviously tazers are limited anyway. In some cases when disturbances are called in it can be assessed that its a mental illness or drug case since the behaviour is usually fairly common. One solution would be to have a pychologist or psychiatrist as part of the team, if for not other reason than to verify police reports, which are often less than genuine.

Since the method of arrest is the problem, tazers only being part of that, then that is what needs to be changed. The use of netting or fencing is one solution, or simply isolating the individual until they calm down. In ontario a tazer death resulted from a guy tearing up a hotel room. There is little available in a hotel room for a person to hurt themselves, let alone others. Barricading the doors and having a protected police presence can work just as well while the person 'calms down' from the high or exhaustion.

In short, it may well be that what needs to change is the whole approach to arrest, at least for the mentally ill and drugged. It may well be that the approach that you'd take for somebody attempting suicide may be the best thing to do.

Part of the problem in canada clearly has been the far too frequent use of the tazer. That's something that needs to be changed, so since we know that it causes death, it should be called a lethal weapon, no matter its intent just for the benefit of the regulations (and not just 'impact' weapon which is clearly a band aid).

That has to do with policing in general, while its a hot topic, studies often show that 'uncooperative' behaviour has a lot to do with gender, size and just appearance. There's a reason that police forces are heavily modifying their equipment. Here in Waterloo the cops have switched their new cars to mostly black with cages-very 'scary' and dropped the 'to protect and serve' motto. And thats even though this area has less violent crime than Fredericton. What suffers is society in general, by far I fear the police more than crime, thanks to some earlier experiences.

And that doesn't even get into the issue that many of these problems result from inadequate social legislation and services for the mentally ill and for drug issues in general. These were problems that were predicted when the massive cuts to social programs began in the mid nineties.

detailer said...

Taser's or 9mm, in a the majority of cases neither.I beleive very strongly that the the hiring system of the RCMP should be looked at.A person should be hired because of his/her intelligence and physical ability, not because of his/her race and language.I think that they use the tool as one of convenience, instead of taking control of the situation. I had a fellow work for me once who was in a police standoff and I took it upon myself to call and reason with him, he immediately surrendered, because I took the time to talk to him in a clear and concise manner. If the RCMP were a little more honest in the public eye they would garnish a lot more respect. Every day you hear something in the news about them that is negative.We are getting closer to a POLICE STATE every day,I feel that my rights are slowly being eroded, every day a local government or provicial government is passing a new law without any sort of referendum from the people.Your government especially does not consult with the people and if you do , you do not listen.

D Stewart said...

Come on detailer, while it is everyones right to ask their elected officials to be responsible it is unreasonable to suggest that every piece of government legislation should be preceded by a referendum. (You actually do have a say at least every for years if you recall)You say you feel that your rights are slowly being eroded but what does that mean. I have to say I hear that statement often enough in places like this but tell me just what rights and just what laws? What laws have enacted with each passing day and just how have they effected you personally? While it might be good for my ego to think that when ever I believe something is wrong it must be wrong or when I think a bad decision has been made it must therefore be bad the truth is a good many people think just the opposite. I know of course their all wrong when they disagree with me of course but what can I say...they obviously don't have my superior reasoning abilities and understanding I guess. I find it ironic that politicians can be accused of not listening to the people one minute only to be accused of caving in to popular demand the next. I think it says more about some of the voters as it does some of the politicians.

mikel said...

Detailer said 'some sort of referendum'. And he said 'every day they pass some laws'. So he clearly didn't say that he wanted EVERY political decision to have a referendum.

However, take an example, Venezuela just had a referendum that had SIXTY FOUR articles in it. And that's a country where tons of people can hardly read.

You DON"T 'have a say every four years', what you have is a VOTE, every four years. That's far different than a 'say'. And to point it out again, you live in a province with essentially two parties where the party with the majority vote LOST. Not to mention most of the 'promises' made during the campaign were never followed up on or were rejected. That's a very bizarre 'say'. Did you say you wanted higher taxes?

But that's an example of a distorted view of democracy, thinking that a law is 'wrong'. I don't think laws are 'wrong' because I don't agree with them. I'd rather drive 120 than 100 on a highway, however, I understand why there's a limit and (usually) abide by it.

A democracy is made up of different interests. It's not 'wrong' that IRving gets a tax holiday on an LNG terminal, its the simple political fact that they their interests are more powerful than those who oppose it. It's not 'right' or 'wrong', its not a moral argument at all. Obviously for Irving it's not 'wrong', its very good, likewise for those who work there.

As for what rights are being eroded, that's pretty easy. Border crossings are far tougher. Your government has a far closer eye on you than ever. There are dozens of new rules for financial transactions, you can't even invest at your local bank over the phone anymore.

Just ask Charles Leblanc about your rights being eroded. It's true that perhaps 'you' are a person who rarely exercises any rights at all, but when you can be arbitrarily arrested and have your camera confiscated and erased, well, you don't get any more obvious than that. That's straight out of the third world police state manual. Again, few people bother, or are simply too scared to exercise most of their rights so they may never notice.

A guy at another blog mentioned Bill C-51, this enables government officials to go into any public place with lots of powers to investigate food items. Again, if YOU don't do any of that you won't notice. The same as if you didn't own a gun then the gun registry wasn't really a transgression on your rights. You have a right to free speech, if you never practise that right, then even if the government clamps down then you won't see it as much of a transgression. If the government closed down blogs the vast majority out there wouldn't give a rats' ass..they're on facebook.

I don't know about there, but here there are red light traffic camera's all over the place, a persons 'right' to privacy is seriously eroded.

In NB a big issue is mining. A landowner doesn't own the ground they live on, so mining companies can come and 'stake a claim' on your property.

The list goes on and on. Finally, that final criticism has an easy explanation. In ANY governmetn where the people don't have an expressed say in how the decision was made, it can be BOTH argued that they are 'caving in' or 'not listening'. Because like I said, society is made up of various interests and any political decision (usually) can't be made to benefit two sides of an issue.

The only way AROUND that, detailer quite accurately points out, is through referenda. Only when people vote DIRECTLY on an issue can you know how whether the issue is 'listening to the people' or 'caving in'. That, of course, presupposes an important question-whether the PEOPLE are sovereign, or whether the government is.

detailer said...

Mikel, thank god there are still people like you. Plain to see who is a liberal on here.I will never vote liberal or conservative again. I just hope that there will be more people like me come next election.It is plain to see that the liberals cannot be trusted. I sent e-mails to different MLA's and they can't even reply with a grunt.I've been watching the Legislature and I am totally ashamed to be living in N.B.

D Stewart said...

mikel you have to get over this silliness of speaking for everyone else. I know what Detailer said I don't need you to explain or interpret his words. Your simply arguing semantics and taking 12 paragraphs to do so is frankly a waste of good space.

mikel said...

Obviously you DIDN"T understand what detailer was saying if you thought that he was saying "that every piece of government legislation should be preceded by a referendum". He didn't say anything of the sort.

As for rights, that was a direct question and I had no way of determining whether the poster was even reading the board anymore, so since you didn't know the answer, I thought I'd provide it. He doesn't seem to mind, why should you? That wasn't 'interpreting his words' or speaking for him, he's allowed to say what he wants, nobody is stopping him.

There is no such thing as 'simply arguing semantics' since semantics is the study of 'meaning', which is anything but simple. It was the above post that talked about how people consider policies they don't like to be 'wrong', I was simply showing that just because somebody SAYS a policy is 'wrong' doesn't mean it's wrong. I could have said 'everything is relative', but people may not have understood what I meant.

Finally, text on the internet takes a negligible amount of 'space' and since every comment has a name at the top, a solution to not wanting to read twelve paragraphs is very simple and readily available. Politics and human rights are incredibly complicated subjects, beware of anybody who tries to dumb them down to a few sentences.

D Stewart said...

I think what mikel is trying to say is that regardless of what anyone else thinks they can always benefit from his enlightened knowledge into pretty much any topic that ever could possibly be envisioned. I also think what mikel is trying to say is that there can never be too many examples, explanations or conclusions while attempting to express even the simplest of thought.
On the other hand I did understand perfectly what was said earlier despite your opinion to the contrary. If detailer doesn't mind you explaining his thoughts that's between the two of you but most do not need others to explain what they say. You can agree or disagree with them, or expand upon them if you wish but don't presume to tell others what they meant. As to your "style"...It is actually not how much you say mikel that is of any really concern. I simply point out how little of what you say has meaning. Even if you have a point it gets lost in the jumble and what benefit is that? As with many things its not the size that matters but what you do with it. Suggesting long incoherent diatribes are somehow superior is more of a reflection of your opinion of yourself than the incredibly complicated subjects you purport to tackle .

mikel said...

I can't read minds. If D Stewart says he understands what 'detailer' said but then outrightly attributes to him something he didn't say, then ANYBODY has the right to bring that up. In fact its common decency.

Mr. Stewart seems to have an ongoing problem with my 'style', however, thats his problem to work out. I've suggested just ignoring my comments, its not hard to do. My post wasn't much longer than anybody else's, and of course the first post from 'autism reality' had 'examples' from the UN and other 'unrelated nonsense' as well.

But life is complicated, so is politics. Why you think that because YOU find no value in my comments that nobody does is quite a bit of hubris. I'm not crazy about Mr. Burke's 'style', I don't think his posts are long enough, or technical enough, or have enough examples, etc., from current legislation and things from the legislature.

That's MY opinion, but I certainly don't expect Mr. Burke, or Charles, or Spinks, or anybody else to change their behaviour to suit me no matter how much I'd prefer. What most of us do, and have done for years, is to be (relatively) civil and debate the specific issues that are mentioned.


PS: it doesn't need to be said, but virtually NONE of the things that Mr. Stewart thinks I'm trying to say are things I'm trying to say. I simply write, I'm not 'trying to say' anything-there is nothing hidden in the context, this isn't literature . I'm just making a point, usually very quickly. End of story.