Non-lethal blogging

At a news conference in Ottawa, the heads of The Canadian Police Association and The Canadian Association of Chiefs of police had a message for the Canadian public, Tasers are safe and every police officer needs them.

According to Chief Tom Kaye

“We reiterate that to date, there is no evidence, either scientific or medical, that a conducted-energy weapon has been the direct cause of death anywhere, at any time, on any person,”

Now I have mixed feeing about this subject. On one hand I’m in favor of safer means to protect the public and the police that serve us but on the other hand I have trouble seeing the message of these groups as unbiased.

I have no doubt that a Taser is safer than a firearm. There is significantly less risk of death with a Taser and the possibility of ricochet harming innocent bystanders is virtually nil. But my problem lies with the very concept of “non-lethal weapons”. The second you believe your weapon is non-lethal you are far more likely to use it. That attitude makes a Taser a dangerous device in my opinion.

From the Taser International website

“TASER devices have been used over one million times by either TASER International or law enforcement without causing a single death.”

Amnesty international disagrees, claiming more than 344 deaths have occurred in North America following Taser incidents.

“Tasers are not the ‘non-lethal’ weapons they are portrayed to be,” said Angela Wright, US researcher at Amnesty International and author of the report. “They can kill and should only be used as a last resort.”

“The problem with Tasers is that they are inherently open to abuse, as they are easy to carry and easy to use and can inflict severe pain at the push of a button, without leaving substantial marks,” said Angela Wright.

Amnesty International’s study — which includes information from 98 autopsies — found that 90 per cent of those who died after being struck with a Taser were unarmed and many did not appear to present a serious threat.

Many were subjected to repeated or prolonged shocks — far more than the five-second “standard” cycle — or by more than one officer at a time. Some people were even shocked for failing to comply with police commands after they had been incapacitated by a first shock.

And there is addtional evidence that Taser international may not be the most upfront with evidence showing danger from Taser devices. In Ohio a medical examiner was sued by Taser interantional over official medical reports that claimed that Taser devices were responsible for the deaths of three men. Safety of Tasers aside, I’m very troubled by a company that tries to interfere with the scientific duties of medical examiner. If this person (or persons) is incapable of performing their duties then they should be fired, but to suggest that their reports can be “changed” to satisfy the desires of a corporation bothers me intensely.

According to Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Julian Fantino

“So much of the misinformation, the miscommunication, is driven by people who have never walked in our shoes … and could never pass recruit training,”

That to me illustrates the problem, Chief Fantino feels that my inability to “pass recruit training” somehow invalidates my ability to make rational judgments. That’s fallacious at best, and I’m supposed to accept his decisions on the safety of me and my family? If a violent offender is confronted in my neighborhood I certainly want the police to use a Taser device to apprehend him rather than drawing a firearm. That helps to protect me and my family. But if those same police officers believe that the Taser is risk free they are more likely to use the device when it’s simply not necessary, and that endangers us all.

Police Chief Kaye feels that when using a Taser

“There has to be some active resistance on people’s behalf. It’s got to be some kind of assaultive, combative behaviour

and

“They may have allowed it be used more as a compliance device. We’re suggesting that that’s not correct,”

That seems reasonable to me and helps me accept this device as a tool for law enforcement. Chief Kaye also brings up the notion that the Canadian deaths coinciding with Taser use, such as Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, may have been the result of Sudden In-Custody Death Syndrome. SICDS is a condition caused by a state known as excited delirium where a prisoners mental and physical state can be exasperated by police activities such as confinement, pepper spray and Taser use, leading ultimately to cardiac arrest and death. Based on my limited research this appears to be a very real syndrome but to claim that a device such as a Taser has nothing to do with the resulting death strikes me a optimistic. I accept that the police have the means to use lethal force I simply want them to understand it and admit it. Currently their attitude seems to be that Tasers absolve them of that.

This issue strikes me as a false dichotomy, a situation where an issue is drawn as being either/or when in fact there is a spectrum or middle ground. I feel we need these devices, statistically we will all be safer if the police have them and use them responsibly. But if the Police always need to remember their mandate is to serve and protect us.

How can they protect us if they don’t recognize the inherent danger of one of their tools?

Chief Kaye seems to me to be a reasonable man, Chief Fantino on the other hand seems polarizing (as a Toronto resident I must admit he always has). Under the likes of Kaye we stand a chance to discuss the issues and our concerns and find a way to resolve our fears reaonably. We should embrace that because the alternative (Chief Fantino) seems unwilling to accept our opinions as valid.

He feels we haven’t walked in his shoes while failing to recognize his lack of time in ours.

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~ by primevilkneivel on February 25, 2009.

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