Friday, February 13, 2009

RCMP: who's in charge?

Yesterday RCMP Commissioner William Elliott announced that Taser use by his officers would be restricted. His announcement was not without equivocation--he wouldn't admit that Tasers actually kill people, it's just that people die after being Tasered--but he was relatively clear on one point: Tasers should only be used "where there is a threat, either to our officers or to members of the public."

What constitutes such a "threat" remains vague, as critics from the Liberals and the NDP were not slow to point out.
But the Commissioner did appear to clarify, stating that Taser use is now to be restricted to situations in which the only alternative is to use a firearm.

Up to now, it could be, and frequently was, deployed when individuals were deemed to be "actively resistant." That notion has been extended to include an old man in a hospital bed, a young Inuk girl already handcuffed to her cell floor, a woman with kids on her lap, and a Native person refusing to remove his ceremonial necklace. As the National Post put it,
Tasers have become "a convenient fallback for police seeking a quick end to unpleasant situations."

Will Elliott's new guidelines reverse the trend of steadily-increasing Taser use by his force? Will they rein in the lazy or sadistic officers who have been deploying Tasers as a hi-tech cattle prod?

One might find some cautious grounds for optimism in his announcement. But he evidently doesn't have the last word on the matter. From the Globe and Mail story, buried at the bottom:

Sergeant Scott Warren, chairman of the RCMP's officer safety committee, said the matter is more complicated in real-life situations.

"The commissioner, with all due respect, is incorrect to say we wouldn't use them again for actively resistant people," he told CTV News.

Here is more, from the CTV story:

[A]ccording to Sgt. Scott Warren, the chair of the RCMP's Officer Safety Committee, the so-called new regulations have been drawn up by officials who are out of touch with the realities of street-level policing.

In an interview with CTV's Power Play, Warren also said that the regulations don't adequately address the split-second decisions police must make everyday.

"Sometimes I think the commissioner is in over his head," said Warren, referring to Elliott, who is the first-ever civilian to head the national police force.

Business as usual, in other words. The line officers are prepared to do their own thing, never mind what the boss-man says. Be prepared for more shocking stories to come as this out-of-control organization continues to spiral downwards.

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