RCMP drafts wide-ranging changes to Taser policy following critical reports

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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OTTAWA - The RCMP plans a sweeping overhaul of its Taser policy following recommendations from inquiries prompted by the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski.
An internal briefing note obtained by The Canadian Press says the Mounties' policy centre on use of force recommends four dozen specific changes on stun gun use.
The note prepared for RCMP Commissioner William Elliott states that the force's review involved examination of two reports sparked by the death of Dziekanski, recent changes to Taser policy in Alberta and discussions within the national police force.
"Once the final (Taser) policy is approved, there will be an immediate impact on operations and training which will have to reflect the policy changes," says the November note, released under the Access to Information Act.
The briefing note states that although there has been preliminary consultation within the force and with partner agencies, "further consultations will be required in order to finalize the draft policy before being submitted to the commissioner for final approval."
Dziekanski, who hoped to join his mother in British Columbia, died in October 2007 after being hit with a Mountie Taser at the Vancouver airport. A video of the confrontation taken by a fellow air passenger, in which a confused, sweaty Dziekanski is zapped repeatedly, was seen by millions of people - triggering public outrage and a fundamental re-examination of stun gun use.
Over the last eight years, Tasers have become an increasingly common tool in the arsenal of police services.
Law-enforcement agencies say the tools, which can be shot from a distance or used in up-close touch-stun mode, are often a preferable alternative to pepper spray or batons when dealing with violent suspects.
Critics say police are using the powerful devices to make merely unco-operative people comply with orders even when they don't pose a threat to officers or bystanders.
Elliott maintains that the Taser is a useful tool for RCMP officers when used properly.
After looking into the Dziekanski case, Paul Kennedy, then-chairman of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, said use of the Taser was "premature and inappropriate." He called on the Mounties to further clarify for their members and the public when a stun gun should be fired.
Former judge Thomas Braidwood, who led a B.C. public inquiry on Taser use, said while the guns can kill or gravely injure people, they can also be a valuable option for officers.
In an initial report, Braidwood said police should use a Taser only when someone is causing harm to another or there's a possibility they will imminently do so.
The B.C. government ordered all police in the province to severely restrict stun gun use, but the RCMP said it needed time to review Braidwood's report.
The RCMP briefing note to Elliott says a policy "revision document is being finalized for review by the commissioner that contains 48 specific recommended (Taser) policy changes."
Sgt. Greg Cox, an RCMP spokesman, said discussions on the new draft policy continue, adding he could not discuss details at this point.
Federal and provincial governments are working on national standards for Taser use, and it's not immediately clear how the latest RCMP revisions would tie in to such a cross-country policy.
The last major changes to the RCMP's national Taser policy took effect in February of last year.
However, there have been some revisions.
Following a bulletin from Arizona-based manufacturer Taser International, the RCMP last October issued an advisory that officers should try to avoid aiming a Taser at a person's chest. The company denied the bulletin was an admission the weapons could trigger heart problems, only that limiting the target zone would help "avoid any potential controversy on this topic."
The RCMP also began training officers last year on a revised system for dealing with incidents involving suspects.
The step-by-step system guides officers in their dealings with people from the point they arrive on the scene to possible use of force, including physical contact and weapons such as the Taser or a conventional firearm.

Organizations: RCMP, Canadian Press, Commission for Public Complaints Taser International

Geographic location: Taser, OTTAWA, Alberta British Columbia B.C. Vancouver

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