Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Braidwood Chronicles: the Taser report

Today Justice Thomas Braidwood's findings from the first phase of his inquiry--examining the use of Tasers by police officers in the field--were released. There's cold comfort there for Taser International.

While not calling for a moratorium on their use, which is admittedly disappointing, Justice Braidwood found that the weapons can indeed cause death, the risk of which is increased if the electric shock is delivered in the chest area, or is used multiple times. He was deeply critical of the BC government, moreover, for having "abdicated its responsibility to set provincial standards."

Braidwood stated that Tasers should only be used if there is an imminent threat of bodily harm, a higher bar than the one presently in effect for many police forces, who use the weapon in cases of "active resistance"--such as walking or running away from police. Or, as those of us who have followed its use have observed, being asleep in a car, or a 15-year-old Inuk girl handcuffed to the floor in a jail cell, or a woman with two kids on her lap, or a disabled Native man who refused to remove a ceremonial necklace*, or an 82-year-old heart patient in a hospital bed, or a fare-dodger on public transport.

As reported, among Braidwood's nineteen recommendations are these:
  • Tasers should only be used for truly criminal situations, and not to enforce municipal or provincial bylaws.
  • Stun guns must only be administered in cases of bodily harm, or where that risk is imminent, for the officer or for others nearby.
  • Officers should get crisis intervention training to ensure they can use other avenues to de-escalate tense situations.
  • A suspect should not be shocked for longer than five seconds.
  • Paramedics should be called immediately in situations deemed "medically high-risk."
  • Officers using Tasers should carry a heart defibrillator.
To which one can only respond, like the kids: "Well, duh."

*Globe & Mail, 30 May 2008 (link disabled).

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