How police officers die: Would Tasers save them?

Deaths of police officers, 1961-2005 by Rob


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In the debate over Taser use by Canadian police, there’s a popular refrain from top officers: The Taser is too important to officer safety to be pulled off the street. Many top brass, like Calgary’s chief, have used this argument to oppose the idea of yanking Tasers until testing proves they’re working properly. The argument has intuitive appeal. But a 40-year history of police officer deaths (see report above) doesn’t support the notion. Between 1961 and 2005, 125 police officers were killed in the line of duty. In 93% of those deaths, officers died in situations in which it’s unlikely they’d ever use a Taser because they were killed by an assailant armed with a gun (also because Tasers weren’t available to officers for much of that study period). It’s unlikely police would ever confront a gun-wielding suspect with Tasers. The stats show that investigating a firearms complaint is the deadliest situation for police. It accounted for the largest number of officer deaths, 15, in the 44-year span. What appears to be vital to officer safety is protecting them from being shot.

The inquiry into the death of a Polish immigrant who was Tasered at Vancouver’s airport in 2007, resumes Monday.

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The big dailies got around today to reporting that the Ontario government ordered Ontario police departments to “test” their older model, x26 Tasers [Star, Globe]. Cancrime reported this news Dec. 10. Kingston’s police chief, Stephen Tanner says he won’t have any scientific tests conducted on the force’s X26 Tasers, of which the department has 34. He maintains that the provincial directive asks police only to “examine” their X26s to ensure that they are “functioning correctly, according to standard training and practices.” Here’s what Tanner told me:

“[The directive] doesn’t say send them out, call a separate company [or] call the manufacturer and have them … electrically tested.”

It means the department will ensure only that officers test fire their weapons (what Taser International calls ‘spark testing’) before taking them out on the road. Owen Sound chief Tom Kaye echoes Tanner’s no-test mantra. Kaye says the public outcry over Tasers is “hysteria.”

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Ontario police Tasers under the gun

You heard it here first. The Ontario government has ordered police forces across Ontario to test older model Tasers, electric stun guns, to ensure they’re working according to specs. The province’s Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services issued the directive today to all police services, after a troubling investigative report by CBC television. It found that some older Tasers, the X26 model, can deliver more juice than the manufacturer says is possible. Many municipal police departments use this model. The findings raise questions about the reliability of the weapons and the claims of the manufacturer, Taser International, which has insisted that Tasers are safe. Amnesty International has called repeatedly for a moratorium on their use.

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