VICTORIA (Canadian OH&S News)
A review into the safe use of conducted energy weapons for British Columbian police officers is wrapping up and will be tabled early next year — and holds the potential to change the way officers use stun guns in the province.
The Special Committee to Inquire into the Use of Conducted Energy Weapons and to Audit Selected Police Complaints recently announced that their final report would be released early next winter. On Nov. 23, the committee concluded the first portion of their process, which involved consultations with the public and presentations from 15 expert witnesses in the field.
The committee’s goal not only tackled the issue of public safety, but also the well-being of those who pull the trigger of the infamous weapons.
Prompted by the high-profile death of polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, who died after being repeated jolted by RCMP officers using Tasers at the Vancouver International Airport in 2007, Justice Thomas Braidwood launched an in-depth inquiry.
As part of his recommendations to the provincial government, the committee to determine safe usage of stun guns was struck.
Chair of the panel, Murray Coell, who also serves as the MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, said that their mandate was to respond directly to the recommendations from Justice Braidwood, who also made a formal presentation to the committee concerning the safe use of stun guns.
“In a nutshell, his recommendations were safety and training [of officers] to see a reduction in the use of Tasers and an increase in the use of verbal communication,” Coell said.
Of the subjects raised during the presentations, of note was the fact that certain brands of conducted energy weapons used by the police and RCMP officers are not certified by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA).
“It was an issue that was brought up by a number of the expert witnesses,” Coell explained, though he added that the issue will come to a head when their final report is presented to the government next year.
The next step in their process will be to work with British Columbia’s auditor-general who will look into police complaints by using random samples.
MLA would like to see more diligent reporting of use
For MLA Kathy Corrigan, the deputy chair of the committee, preliminary evidence has indicated that when it comes to safety of the officers and the public, it is safer to have Tasers than it is not to. She said that her committee agreed with the clearer standards and better training cited in Braidwood’s recommendations, adding that she would like to see a more diligent reporting process.
Overall Taser usage by police officers in British Columbia had gone down about 87 per cent, she noted.
In an effort to increase awareness and education surrounding such a hotly-contested issue, the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) notifies the public each time a Taser weapon is deployed or used.
“The VPD knows that public interest is very high surrounding the use of the Taser and that many reviews have been done and more are currently under way. We welcome the debate and the reviews. We hope that the release of the information in these reports is also helpful in that regard,” information from the VPD noted.
Though he declined to comment on the current status of the committee’s forthcoming report, VPD spokesman Const. Brian Montague said in an email that conducted energy weapons are considered “less lethal” and used as an “intermediate weapon.”
The final report from the committee is slated for release as early as February 2013.