New guidelines a positive step

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It is said that sometimes even the darkest cloud can have a silver lining. For the family and friends of Howard Hyde that may be little solace, but his death in a Halifax correctional centre appears to be about to change the way police and jail guards used conductive energy weapons when dealing with the mentally ill.

While it was never proven that the tasering of the 45-year-old man in 2007 directly led to his death, it's widely believed that it was a contributing factor leading to an inquest that should change how stun guns are used in the future.

Hyde died in November 2007 some 30 hours after officers used a stun gun to disable. It was just another example of someone losing their life soon after being zapped and led to calls for more accountability on the use of a weapon that is supposed to be an alternative to lethal force in the form of a firearm.

The new guidelines, announced last week, call on police, court officials and jail guards to consider whether a person is mentally ill before shocking them and if the person they are trying to subdue is known to have a mental illness the use of a stun gun is to be a last resort.

As well, in case where a stun gun or Tasers is to be used, police need to ensure paramedics are called to the scene before the weapon is deployed.

In setting these new guidelines, Nova Scotia is the first province in Canada to spell out when conductive energy weapons can be used on someone who is mentally ill. Justice Minister Ross Landry saying law enforcement and justice officials will be trained to recognize when someone is showing signs of autonomic hyperarousal state.

Tasers do have a place in law enforcement, but a greater understanding of their use and the consequences will benefit both police and the public. By recognizing someone suffers from a mental illness, police may be able to find another way to subdue someone and prevent another family from having to endure what the Hyde family had to go through. If it saves even one life, Hyde's death will not have been in vain.

Geographic location: Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

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