Toronto police board to consider issuing more Tasers for officers
|Toronto Star 20 Feb 2018 at 14:22|
The Toronto police chief wants to expand the availability of Tasers to front-line officers by issuing up to 400 additional stun guns at a cost of $950,000.
In his recommendation to the Toronto Police Services Board, Chief Mark Saunders wrote that expanding Taser deployment will help their goal of achieving zero deaths in interactions with the public.
Toronto police used Tasers in 292 use-of-force incidents in 2016, according to spokesperson Meaghan Gray. Toronto police currently have 545 Tasers available.
“We’ve been advocating for Tasers for many, many years,” Mike McCormack, president of the Toronto Police Association, told reporters outside police headquarters Monday.
“We’ve all been working together and that’s something we need to see for front-line officers, and I’m glad that we’re finally — after years and years of getting this forward — having the potential of getting Tasers for front-line officers.”
Nigel Barriffe, president of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, said he’s “very disappointed” by the recommendation. He believes that making Tasers available to more police officers increases the likelihood of its use when they come into contact with someone in distress.
“The idea of purchasing more weapons for front-line police officers does not give me faith that it will keep all of the members of society safe,” he said.
“The Tasers give the option to just immediately inflict pain or harm on a citizen, a human,” Barriffe said. “Instead, (police officers) should be using de-escalation techniques to talk a person down.”
Some former police officers told the Star that increased deployment of Tasers could save lives.
Gary Ellis, head of Guelph-Humber’s Justice Studies program and a former Toronto police superintendent, called Tasers an “intermediary” weapon — less lethal than a firearm and more effective than a baton.
“There is extensive training needed to use it,” he said, explaining the Taser can “never be used as a coercive device or as a device to punish or torture.”
Police officers have to warn the person in advance of using a Taser, Ellis said, and report every time it is used.
“There needs to be strong regulations, strong reporting, strong supervision and transparency around when they’re used,” Ellis said. “If it saves one life that wouldn’t be saved, then it’s a valuable tool.”
Erick Laming, a University of Toronto doctoral student in criminology who has studied Taser use in Ontario, agrees that expanding the use of Tasers is a “smart move,” but cautions against the lack of stringent and strict policy guiding its use.
Provincial policy guiding the use of Tasers is “flexible,” Laming said, restricting its use only against the elderly, pregnant women and youth. “There’s nothing on restriction against mentally ill people, which is a huge issue,” he said.
“It needs to be relayed to the public why (Tasers) are being used,” he said, urging the need for Toronto police service to be proactive in that regard. For example, the Regina police service lists on Twitter every time a Taser is used and how it’s used.
Saron Gebresellassi, a human rights lawyer in Toronto, said the chief’s recommendation is “insensitive” and “out of sync with what’s happening in the country right now, and even more so in the City of Toronto.”
“The fact that they’re already so armed is a disincentive,” Gebresellassi said. “It’s better than shooting somebody and killing somebody for sure, nobody would disagree with that. But that’s a pretty low bar to have in my view.”