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Police afraid to use Tasers, says RCMP official

Oct 16 2012

B.C. police officers are scared to use their Tasers because of public criticism, a committee of MLAs was told Monday by a senior RCMP official and police psychologist.

The RCMP, which polices the bulk of the province, has seen a steady decline in Taser use by its officers since 2008, assistant commissioner Randy Beck told the all-party committee at the legislature.

Taser use dropped six per cent in 2011, 14.2 per cent in 2010 and 26.4 per cent the year prior, Beck said.

“There is a tendency to shy away from the use [of Tasers] by our officers, that is clear,” said Beck.

Beck, the RCMP’s officer in charge of core policing in the province, said increased training in Taser use that began in 2011 could also be playing a role in decreasing use of the devices.

Overall Taser use, including that by municipal police forces, is down 87 per cent in B.C. since the death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver’s airport five years ago, the committee heard last week in testimony from government police services director Clayton Pecknold.

Outspoken police psychologist Mike Webster, who used to treat Mounties before he was blacklisted by the force, said police officers are “leaving their Tasers in the trunk of the police car” rather than deploying them against people.

“You have had testimony before you here at this committee that Tasers are relatively safe — not true,” he told MLAs.

“They are not relatively safe. The company itself now is admitting that these weapons can kill. You have been asking and the media has been asking: Why this drastic decrease in the use of Tasers?

“I circulate through the police community as a police psychologist, and I’ll tell you why. Because policemen are afraid to use them, that’s why.”

Webster said there has been “no great enlightenment” about de-escalation techniques. “Policemen are absolutely afraid to use [Tasers], because they can see how the public reacts. They can see the investigative process, the criticism they have to go through.”

The committee of MLAs is investigating the status of Taser-related recommendations made by Justice Thomas Braidwood in 2009.

The Braidwood commission examined the death of Dziekanski, who was tasered several times by RCMP officers during a 2007 confrontation at Vancouver International Airport.

The legislative committee has two more meetings set this month. It has a year to produce its final report.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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