RCMP to curb use of Tasers

OTTAWA, CANADA - The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) announced it has curbed the use of Taser stun guns after several suspects zapped by police died.

"On June 18, 2008, all members of the RCMP were instructed that the CEW (conducted energy weapons) must only be used where it is necessary to do so in circumstances of threats to officer or public safety," RCMP Commissioner William Elliott told a House committee on public safety and national security.

"This requirement has subsequently been written into our formal policy," he said.

The US-manufactured Taser is meant to incapacitate a person with a 50,000-volt jolt of electricity.

Canada's RCMP had been under pressure to halt the use of Tasers, which it previously held were a necessary and non-lethal alternative to firearms, after several people died soon after being shocked.

Others lamented their frequent use led to abuses. The RCMP's previous policy permitted the use of Tasers in dealing with people who were simply uncooperative or resisting arrest.

The death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, 40, in October 2008 after four RCMP officers confronted him and jolted him with a Taser stun gun less than a minute into the encounter, galvanized public opposition to their use.

Dziekanski had been wandering for hours lost at the Vancouver International Airport, unable to get information as he spoke only Polish.

Widely distributed video images of the encounter, shot by a bystander, showed Dziekanski falling to the ground and screaming in pain before dying minutes later.

Other cases involved an elderly man strapped to a hospital stretcher, a teenage girl in a jail cell and transit users trying to avoid paying fares.

"I think there certainly have been some instances where Tasers have been used in inappropriate circumstances," Elliott told reporters.

But he maintained there is no direct link between the energy weapons and at least 11 deaths of people jolted by police.

"I do not think that there is evidence that Tasers kill, but certainly we have had some incidents where shortly after a Taser was deployed, individuals died," he said.

"Being Tasered involves a considerable application of force. And the application of force certainly entails risk," he added.

In San Jose, California, a man died after he was jolted with a Taser by police in the backyard of a house just recently, in the state's sixth Taser death since police began using the stun guns in 2004.


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