Toronto police say no conducted energy weapon deaths in 2016
|Toronto Star 21 Mar 2017 at 00:40|
A new report on Toronto police use of conducted energy weapons, better known as Tasers, states there were no deaths associated with the weapon in 2016 â€” a claim being questioned by critics who point to the ongoing probe into the case of a man who died after he was Tasered by police in November.
In an annual report released by the Toronto police services board Friday, Toronto police chief Mark Saunders says there were â€śno deaths directly associatedâ€ť with Tasers in the past year. The report does not acknowledge an ongoing probe by the provincial police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), into the death of Toronto man Rui Nabico.
Nabico, 31, died on November 4, 2016, after anear St. Clair Ave. and Old Weston Rd. Though the cause of death has not yet been released, Nabico went into medical distress after Toronto police Tasered him, according to the SIU .
In a message Monday, a spokesperson for the family said they have not received any information that would explain how the Toronto police could conclude no death had resulted from Tasers.
Meaghan Gray, spokesperson for the Toronto police, said the Taser report can only include confirmed deaths. In Nabicoâ€™s case, the SIU has not yet released the coronerâ€™s report stating cause of death.
â€śIf the SIU or the coronerâ€™s report comes back and makes the determination that that death was in fact the direct result of the Taser use, then we will go back and make that correction in a future report,â€ť Gray said.
Peter Rosenthal, a Toronto lawyer who has represented multiple families of people killed in police interactions, said the report should have acknowledged the ongoing SIU probe.
â€śItâ€™s of great concern that the alleged Taser death isnâ€™t mentioned there at all,â€ť said Rosenthal, who has been a . â€śThey are acting as if there wasnâ€™t any question about it.â€ť
Erick Laming, a doctoral student in criminology at the University of Toronto who has studied Taser use in Ontario, also criticized police for â€śglossing overâ€ť Nabicoâ€™s death.
Laming has supported police in the prospect of expanding use of the weapon â€” the Toronto police board is considering broadening the deployment of Tasers beyond the current selection of front line supervisors and members of specialized units. But he says there must be accountability.
â€śIf youâ€™re not going to be open and transparent about incidents, thereâ€™s an issue with that, especially if youâ€™re going to expand (the use of Tasers) to more frontline officers,â€ť he said.
The annual report shows use of the weapon reached a five-year high in 2016, with a total number of 292 cases where the Taser was used. That is up from 265 last year and the five-year low of 192 in 2013.
In one in five cases, the weapon was used on an emotionally disturbed person, according to the report. In over 53 per cent of total incidents, officers believed that the subject was armed.
The report also states officers perceived the subjectâ€™s behaviour as assaultive in about half of the total incidents, and in 25 per cent of total cases officers believed the subjectâ€™s behaviour â€śwas likely to cause serious bodily harm or death.â€ť
Just over half of the incidents where Tasers were used in 2016 were cases of whatâ€™s called â€śdemonstrated force presence,â€ť meaning the Taser was pulled out of a holster and usually pointed at a person solely to gain compliance; the weapon is not actually deployed.
Thatâ€™s consistent with demonstrated force rates in police services across Canada, Laming said.
While the report breaks down the age and sex of those Tasered by police in 2016, is does not contain race-based data.
In December, in response tomental health external advisory committee, the board asked Saunders to provide a report on whether race data could be included in the annual Taser report.
That briefing did not happen at the public meeting last month. Toronto police services board chair Andy Pringle did not respond to the Star when asked for comment on the issue Monday.
Gray said there have been â€śactive discussionsâ€ť between the chiefâ€™s office and the board on the issue, which is complicated by the fact that the provincial report Toronto police must fill out after a use-of-force incident does not record race, nor does Torontoâ€™s form for reporting use of Tasers.
â€śThereâ€™s a broader policy discussion thatâ€™s being had, the results of which should be seen in a report thatâ€™s going to the board in April,â€ť she said.