Taser use by B.C. cops down almost 90% since Robert Dziekanski altercation

·Contributing Writer

It's been six years since Robert Dziekański died from Taser injuries sustained during an altercation with the RCMP. On October 14, 2007, bystander Paul Pritchard filmed four officers subduing the "erratic" 40-year-old with force at Vancouver International Airport.

During the confrontation, the officers were accused of firing their Tasers five times against the Polish immigrant — until his heart gave out. It certainly didn't help that police then confiscated Pritchard's camera only to return it to him two days later with a wiped out memory card.

Upon final inquiry, the officers were found to have used the Taser against Dziekański in an unjustified manner and were also dinged for trying to misrepresent their actions to investigators.

Since that awful incident, one could imagine that police in B.C. would be hesitant to pull out a Taser for any old reason, particularly in light of revised regulations. And it's true. According to the Canadian Press, police Taser use has dropped 87 per cent in the province since the Dziekański affair.

That means an electric charge bore its way into a suspect's flesh just 85 times last year, compared to the approximate 640 times police deployed a Taser in 2007.

[ Related: RCMP responding to 911 calls in B.C. accused of brutality towards aboriginals ]

But as the article notes, these figures have introduced a few troubling questions that were raised at Tuesday's committee hearing on the status of the province's 2010 Taser policy.

The first, posed by Liberal MLA John Slater, asked what police have replaced their tasers with when dealing with out-of-control people: "How many of them have been shot by police?" he said.

The second question showed concerned for the officers' well-being.

"You go from 645 to 85 incidents, so are the police officers more exposed to danger from the public?" Slater wondered at the hearing.

To address the first, Gabi Hoffman, the program manager for the police services division in the justice ministry told the committee that police shootings had not increased, although no data were provided.

To address the second, Hoffman continued that officers "appear to be relying more heavily on verbal skills and physical tools other than Tasers when dealing with potentially dangerous situations."

In 2010, the RCMP declared they would only use a Taser on people if they looked like they were hurting someone "or about to do so."

Other provinces followed suit. Ontario implemented new guidelines and training standards for police using the electric weapons.

In an editorial, the National Post's Jesse Klein argued that the decline in Taser use without a corresponding rise in firearm use could indicate that police were using their electric charges a little more frequently than necessary.

[ Related: New opera tells story of Robert Dziekanski, pre-Tasering ]

But the weapon will always have its defenders, who counter that when used properly, it's an extremely effective means of self-defense.

And then, of course, there are these guys.

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