Thursday, June 19, 2008

Canada's Cops Called Out for Over-Tasing

Yesterday saw the release of Canada's Commission for Public Complaints report on conducted energy weapons (CEWs). The executive summary of the report calls out Canada's mounties (RCMP) for tasing unarmed people, people running, seniors, and teenagers. It also chastises the RCMP for keeping very skimpy records on deployments and the situations leading to them. It recommends the following minimum policy:
  • Clear guidance on seeking medical treatment;
  • Use restricted to Constables who have a minimum of five (5) years of operational experience;
  • An appreciation of the operational realities faced by rural, remote and Northern detachments; and
  • A requirement that reporting include clear and concise descriptions of the deployment(s):
    • The circumstances of use;
    • The subject behaviour and if and how that behaviour changed over the course of the interaction; and
    • Situational factors that led to the member choosing the CEW over other force options.

Finally, overall RCMP CEW policy should focus less on the technical aspects of the weapon and more on the contextual issues surrounding deployments. Clearly, operational guidance in this area is needed.
The executive summary ends with 12 recommendations "for immediate implementation" [their bolding, not mine]. A few of them:

Recommendation 1: The RCMP immediately implement all of the Commission's Interim Report recommendations, in particular:

  • Recommendation #1 that the conducted energy weapon be classified as an "impact weapon" and use be allowed only in situations where an individual is "combative" or posing a risk of "death or grievous bodily harm" to the member, the individual or the general public.
  • Recommendation #2 that the conducted energy weapon be used on individuals appearing to be experiencing the condition(s) of excited delirium only when the behaviour is "combative" or posing a risk of "death or grievous bodily harm" to the member, the individual or the general public.

Recommendation 4: The RCMP immediately direct, through policy and implement operational guidance, that the conducted energy weapon will be used only by the following members:

  • Corporals or above in urban4 settings.
    • All members of specialized response teams5 are exempt from this criterion.
  • Constables with at least five (5) years of operational experience who are posted to detachments in rural6settings.
    • All members of specialized response teams are exempt from this criterion.

Any RCMP member who is currently trained and certified to use a conducted energy weapon who does not meet any of these criteria will be prohibited from using the weapon until the criterion is met.

As people are writing at Excited Delirium and Truth Not Tasers (both very worth reading), the report, while stinging, leaves the RCMP plenty of wiggle room. I'd expect the exemption in Recommendation 4 to result in an increase in the number of rookies assigned to "specialized response teams" and an increase in the number of such teams. Will we see the RCMP creating response teams for tasing fleeing teenagers? It wouldn't surprise me.

One thing that's slightly hopeful is that the report urges explicit policy on taser use and "at-risk" populations. The report doesn't limit that population to pregnant women and children:

At-risk populations include, but are not limited to, people with mental health issues, substance abuse problems, the homeless, and other persons from marginalized groups.

At a news conference yesterday, the head of the commission that issued the report had this to say:

"I want it boxed in, I want constraints,''
That's hopeful, but time will tell.

The RCMP has responded with an initial statement respecting the commission's report:

"We will act on the recommendations as quickly as possible to provide clearer direction to our members, to further restrict situations in which the CEW can be deployed, and to develop and implement measures to enhance accountability," the RCMP said in a statement.

I wonder if today will be another bad day for Taser International. I guess it depends on how investors interpret the commission's report. If they focus on the RCMP's agreement to be more judicious in taser use, it could be a bad day indeed. I wonder if Taser director Bruce Culver is getting ready to sell more shares.