Police to begin deploying Tasers this week

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Matt Gardner
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Front line officers of the Prince Albert Police Service will begin carrying conducted energy devices (CEDs) starting this Friday.

Often referred to by the brand name Tasers, CEDs use electrical currents to override the nervous system and disrupt voluntary muscle control in order to incapacitate the target.

The Saskatchewan Police Commission originally authorized the use of CEDs by municipal police services in January 2013 following a five-year study.

“We are pleased to have this additional use of force option,” Inspector Jason Stonechild said on Monday as he announced the CED deployment.

“I am confident that the structure and policy in place will ensure that there is sufficient oversight to see it used properly and safely by our department,” he added.

Stonechild stressed the high level of training and accountability accompanying the expanded use of CEDs, which is governed by both internal and provincial policy.

Before deployment, officers must receive mandatory training on operation of the devices as well as alternatives to their use, such as crisis intervention and de-escalation techniques.

Const. Scott Hayes, a training officer responsible for maintenance and support of the CED units, noted, “Our members are provided with 12 hours of training.

“We do a four-hour online training component done through the Canadian Police Knowledge Network and then there’s an eight-hour practical session, which includes reality-based scenario training.”

Describing the device as an “intermediate weapon” to be “used only in cases where there is imminent risk of serious bodily harm,” Stonechild positioned CEDs as simply one more choice on a wide spectrum of use of force options -- ranging from the mere presence of police to the use of deadly force.

Pointing out that officers receiving constant training and reminders through their career on de-escalation, conflict resolution and use of force, he noted, “It’s a practice that shouldn’t change, in theory, when you’re going into a dangerous situation then it would if we didn’t have the CEDs.

“The only difference now is we have a different option for a level of force, and how a member deploys a use of force option should be very similar and use his judgement.”

Local police now have 13 CED units available for use, with two reserved for use by SWAT team members. Stonechild estimated the cost of each CED as between $1,100 and $1,200.

Frontline officers issued with CEDs must sign out the devices using their individual serial number to ensure police know which officer has the device at a given time.

In the event that police must use a CED on a subject, the targeted person will receive medical attention -- only the first of many required steps.

“Any time a member used a CED, it’s a policy that a supervisor is immediately notified and will attend the scene and take photographs where applicable, submit a report and that report is reviewed by our use of force committee internally,” Stonechild said.

“Additionally, we report those incidents to the provincial police commission and they’ll review it as well.”

Higher levels of training and accountability reflect a general trend in CED use, according to Amnesty International Canada security and human rights campaigner Hilary Homes.

I am confident that the structure and policy in place will ensure that there is sufficient oversight to see it used properly and safely by our department. Jason Stonechild

Noting that even Tasers International came out with a study offering further recommendations on the safe use of Tasers, Homes suggested that there is a greater level of caution regarding CED use today, with more oversight bodies and greater public awareness.

She also pointed to studies describing general patterns that follow the adoption of new weapons and devices.

“What often happens is you have the new tool and it’s sort of championed for a variety of reasons and then you see a marked increase in use, followed by … restrictions and better guidelines,” Homes said.

“I think because we’re so far into the debate and the discourse around the use of a Taser, that’s less likely to occur. But it’s something we need to be vigilant of -- hence the importance of accountability and being able to see the statistics on use.”

Offering some positive anecdotes, Homes noted that she has been receiving fewer calls for comment from the media regarding Taser use of late. She suggested that the debate in many areas of the country had shifted toward the use of force by police in general.

While Amnesty International has been vocal in its desire for a high threshold governing Taser use by police, Homes was also sympathetic to the advantages it provides officers on the front lines.

She noted the importance of being able to resolve a situation with the minimum use of force.

“You do want (police) to have a variety of tools and you want them well-trained in those, you want them accountable in those,” Homes said. “When all you have is sort of your wits and a gun, that limits your choices.”

She characterized  the greater professionalization of modern law enforcement training as a positive trend.

“As long as they have the proper training and that training is refreshed and there is accountability, those are all very positive things … Patterns of policing have changed a great deal and you want them to have the tools to deal with that incredibly complex environment.”

Meanwhile, speaking for the John Howard Society of Saskatchewan, acting provincial executive director Shaun Dyer quoted his organization’s official position on CEDs in an email: “We support the use of any tool that enhances local police services’ ability to provide the public with improved safety, reduce the use of lethal force, and ensure effective, just and humane responses to criminal behaviour.

“Conducted Energy Devices (Taser), provided that thorough training and strict use policies are in place, are such tools.”

See also:

Higher threshold required for police Taser use: Amnesty International

Organizations: Saskatchewan Police Commission, Canadian Police Knowledge Network, Amnesty International Frontline John Howard Society of Saskatchewan Energy Devices

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