Mounties review Tasers, conclude that they're dangerous, misused and under-researched

Loraksus sez, "The recently released report about Taser use by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is quite interesting. Not only did they find that RCMP did an "inadequate" review of the literature available on Tasers and had an 'overreliance' on anecdotal information., but they also tore into 'excited delirium', saying'ED should be considered 'folk knowledge'' and '...should not be included in the RCMP's operational manual' It looks like the use of Tasers in a "ensuring compliance" role is diminishing. In most of Canada at least."
"Perhaps there would have been a delay in implementation, or at least a limited deployment (e.g., to supervisors or their designates and to tactical squads)."

The review, which questions the safety of stun guns – especially when used on pregnant women, drug users or people with medical conditions – argues that there should be national standards to guide Taser use by police forces across the country. The standards could be developed with the help of the Canadian Firearms Centre and Public Safety Canada.

RCMP relied too much on Taser manufacturer info: report (Thanks, Loraksus!)

See also: Taser death at Vancouver Airport

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  1. Perhaps much of this just reflects a different standard of how much Canadians value the wellbeing of their fellow citizens versus how Americans do. In the US, we seem relatively okay with killing people every so often if that’s the price of getting them to shut up and stop being disruptive.

  2. In the US we seem okay with much of law enforcement just not treating people like people.

    I figure if we reduce their SWAT and ammo budgets by 80% or more we can afford to stop hiring the power-hungry assholes with an Associates degree in “criminology” as senior officers.

  3. I think it would be a great service for someone medically trained to explain “excited delerium” to the world. Something smells made up about it.

  4. @2 That’s disregarding the possibility that sgnificant parts, perhaps a majority, of what makes up “we” actively support the current uses of tasers by the police.
    You may not encounter authoritarians often, but they do exist in droves.

  5. #4 – I think you missed me there.

    The police can have tasers, the tool has it’s uses, as do guns, dogs, etc… But no PD, not even the NYPD, needs a frigging armored personnel carrier.

    They’re doing it wrong.

    We’re doing it wrong.

    It’s the degree of authoritarian oppression that police actively convey (probably as a defense of some sort) that needs to go. We’re the only ones who can do it.

  6. @4 Actually, the desire for the APC offers some insight– it’s a military vehicle, meant to be used in warfare against an enemy. Underlying that is the belief that large parts of the population aren’t best thought of as fellow citizens, but as enemies to be suppressed as briskly as possible.

  7. As I see it, one of the problems is that the people who make the decisions, especially in large organizations, tend to think alike. They are driven by similar goals and are motivated in similar ways. So when a personal-profit-driven RCMP Commisionner listens to a personal-profit-driven executive from Taser, he/she listens and believes them.

    Since the RCMP Commissioner considers his or her motives as pure, then Taser’s motives (as they are the the same: Me! Me! Me!) must be pure too.

    One of the other problems is we tend to agree, when we’re not sure, with people who ‘look like us’. Or act like us, or dress like us, or read the same books. “If the cops in Atlanta use Tasers then WE should use them.” “That very rich man from Taser wears a suit and tie, *I* wear a suit and tie; I”m a good guy, so HE must be a good guy, and..so I must be rich too, or close to being rich…

    Other unreliable reasoning used: “Well, if they’ve been in business so long, they must be doig something right, no?” (Yeah, but look how long the Mafia have been in business.)

    Nota:
    If we can just convince the cops to Taser themselves in the chest during demonstations of Tasers’ “safety” (rather than in the thick-skinned back) so that their hearts can sustain some damage and they can die from it within 24 hours, maybe we can get them to be less cavalier in their use of the Taser.

  8. There’s a right-wing, “Christian” political component to Taser Inc.’s management, too. When Montana Gov. Judy “I’m a lapdog for industry” Martz was thrown out of office (after personally destroying evidence in an ongoing criminal investigation of her chief of staff who killed the state GOP senate leader in a drunk driving crash), she landed a nice job on Taser’s board of directors.

  9. A change in the way we value life will either start with a realignment and/or change in the power that runs a country, or it will be a revolution from the bottom.

    This might be possible in Canada, but I fear that those of you in the US may have terminally lost your way and seem to have little energy or passion left to force change. Tasers may be part of your lives there for a long, long time.

    I suspect you’ve got one last chance, in about two months, to turn the country into a more humanitarian entity…I wish you the best.

  10. I’m more curious on the ‘other’ half of this story. How it came out. From a news report I saw, this information only came to light after a freedom of information act request. Should something done with public money (this study) not be available to Canadians WITHOUT having to specifically ask for it. As it is, there’s still apparently 16 pages that have been kept secret.

    Some of the tasty nuggets in the info are things like the RCMP should not have relied almost soley on the manufacturers information. ‘Well…d’uh’ I think is appropriate here. That they should have done independent testing or something to met out or verify the info the manufacturer gave.

  11. oh great, more rules of conduct for police who don’t follow the rules they have now. how about this: any law enforcement or legal authority allowed to carry a taser experience the effect of the taser themselves as part of their weapons training. that may make them think twice about using it. or better yet, find a better, HARMLESS method of restraint.

    we are sick and tired of hearing so many ‘anecdotal’ accounts of death or injury from these things. the danger is real.

    but then again some folks enjoy actually hurting someone.

  12. Having just seen many tasers employed on the streets of St Paul as a crowd control weapon, and withnessed numerous examples of people being tased multiple times (really folks, once is enough, no need to hit em again when they are on the ground spasming)….well let’s just say I’m making my plans to expatriate rather soon….

  13. Robin Hood, I’d hold off on those plans. The RC’s are just as likely to tase you for things like refusing to put down your camera or, in the case of the Vancouver TransLink goons, not paying the fare for the city bus.

    They’re not using it as a replacement for lethal force they’re using it to quickly force someone into compliance regardless of whether the need was justified. Why negotiate when you can just zap them?

  14. @8 I really hope people aren’t as “stupid” as to trust just about anyone that look like themselfs. Maybe I’m defective, but I usually am extremly suspicious of people trying to get something from that I don’t know personally.

    Anywho, having the police officers taser each other will IMHO not make one iota of difference how they will deploy it in the field. I think everyone using that thing on people knows already full well what it does to you. So if you have officers use it to end an argument or disperse a crowd I’m completely inclined that they are sick fucks who get of on hurting people and exploiting their position of power.

    I have to admit though, if they would taser each other you might get lucky and a bunch of them die, wich in turn MIGHT lead them to rethink their excessive use of it. Sadly it’s more likely they will just tasering each other while keeping the use in the field the same.

  15. Tasers are not lethal enough.

    Now after you wipe up the coffee that just came out of your nose, read on:

    Tasers are intentionally designed to incapacitate without killing (even though this isn’t always the outcome). The result of this is that they do not require any kind of moral or ethical life-and-death decision and are used quite casually, at the owner’s discretion and with few distinctive injuries, and even more so when they’re not actually fired.

    Their use as a simple “cattle prod” shocking device (which does not require firing the weapon) is seldom reported although it is often a standard procedure for subduing someone who is being apprehended whether it is required or not.

    The victims of this type of treatment may simply be slow to comply with an arresting officer’s demand, or may be intoxicated, disabled or just plain the wrong color for the officer’s bad day. Since a nightstick is considered a more brutal approach, it is a “no-risk” policy to use them in the eyes of many police officers.

  16. @ #16: As I understand it, all taser-wielding officers are subjected to a taser as part of their training. When they first introduced the taser I was still in highschool and we had a cop giving a demonstration in front of the class. He assured us that everyone who is trained to use one has to feel its effects.
    Regardless, they’re only being tased once, they’re given ample preparation time, they aren’t afraid for their lives and they aren’t being beaten with nightsticks as it happens. They’re in peak physical condition and have a thicker layer of muscle than most. They all have no heart complications or they wouldn’t be allowed to be police. None of them are pregnant and (hopefully) none of them are meth addicts… So, yeah, they’re being zapped, and given every impression that they’re incapable of being lethal.

    On a side note, does anyone know if this is the same inquiry that was sparked by last years unfortunate incident at the Vancouver airport?

  17. …The very concept of Dudley Do-Right getting issued a taser is something I really wish Jay Ward and Bill Scott had lived to put to film :-(

  18. The correct term for all devices in the category is:

    Less potential of being Lethal.

    AkA

    Less Lethal- or Less than Lethal.

    Which is intent of reminding that there *IS* still considerable lethal risk. And that follows the concept of appropriate force level. Which WAS a defined “Use Of Force” policy. Stating clearly what situation/s allowed or forbade-or demanded the use of force. And limits on such force.

    IANAL but the explanation given to me was odd.

    “Having a defined policy subjects officers to suit for violating it” NOT having one therefore makes for the present messes.

    So it mey need substantial legal wrangling to get justice.When that officer tases you for aggravated mopery with intent to gawk? Mike Royko sadly can no longer write a screed to raise public ire.

    But if we begin demanding citizen review boards?

    Currently there are some open breaks from having a defined use of force policy.

  19. I’m almost positive that being tased is not mandatory for cops – and even if it is used, it is used in stun gun mode which is different that fishhook-shot-into-your-skin-before-electrocution mode

  20. 1989 – News item ‘Out of control junkie shot by police’
    1990 – Public outcry “Why can’t the police use something else?”
    1993 – Police get nightsticks.
    1997 – News item ‘Man doing bad thing put in coma by nightstick’
    1998 – Public outcry “Why can’t the police use something else?”
    2000 – Police get pepper spray.
    2001 – News item ‘Pepper spray fails to stop bad man from doing bad thing’
    2003 – Police get tasers
    2004 – News item ‘Tasers occasionally kill people’
    2008 – Public outcry “Why can’t the police use something else?”
    2009 – Police go back to using guns, ’cause they’re between a rock and a hard place anyway, and guns work the best…

  21. #25, If the police shot (with guns) even 10% of those who were tasered over the years, the USA would currently be in a period of immense civil unrest or even outright civil war.
    Tasers have been used a lot, for some very minor things and in most cases of taser use, police officers wouldn’t consider using a firearm.

    I think they have a use, but it needs to be defined a bit more clearly.

  22. @10- You do realize this would be taken by some to be a strong, if unstated, advantage to their use.
    “Oh, darn, another meth head died. Well, his own fault for using.”

  23. @ 19, if the cops were to tase each other when they’re not expecting it – if they would just creep up on the new guy at the water fountain and give him a shock in the butt, they might get the real flavour of the experience.

  24. @24 It may vary from place to place but every place I can currently verify quickly (I know NY & TX from personal experience, searches reveal further results) it is mandatory as part of training to recieve a “shot” from the taser if you are going to carry it on duty. So, not all officers are required to have been shicked but any carrying one on duty is to have been shocked as part of the training. There are a few instances (use google) of police taking the training videos (each trainee shocking is commonly recorded as evidence of training) out of the station to show people and being disciplined for it – they are pretty funny to watch sometimes.

    Of course, as has been mentioned the tasering they get takes place in very controlled circumstances which do not in any way resemble how they use the weapon in the real world

  25. Cory, I’d like to point out that the headline is misleading. “Mounties review Tasers, conclude that they’re dangerous, misused, and under-researched” imply that the Mounties themselves reviewed their use, e.g., self-policed, instead of what the article indicates in the very first paragraph, that an “independent review concludes” that “RCMP officials relied too heavily on information provided by manufacturers when they developed their own stun gun policies and training programs.”

    Perhaps the headline should read:

    Review completed three months ago, but only released Friday, concludes that the RCMP didn’t actually investigate Tasers before over-using them.

    Or some such.

  26. Ben Zimmer did quite a lot of research on the TASER, which can be found at

    http://blog.oup.com/2007/11/tase/

    A Canadian mountee will call her man a HOSER if he prematurely goes off — that line seems somehow on- topic here, but maybe not.


    Aloha ~~~ Ozzie Maland ~~~ San Diego

  27. The RCMP is done. The institutionalized corruption, their law-breaking, their contempt for those they are supposed to obey and serve, their willingness to kill their own, their low recruitment standards, their protection of those who torture and murder in uniform – they are finished. Tasers are just a symptom.

  28. Antinous has a thing for Dudley Dooright? Hmm… I always thought he’d go for the more stylish and svelte Snidely Whiplash. Or maybe even the grandfatherly Colonel Fenwick. :)

  29. loraksus “#25, If the police shot (with guns) even 10% of those who were tasered over the years, the USA would currently be in a period of immense civil unrest or even outright civil war.”
    My point exactly. The taser, like the nightstick, pepper spray and triangle-lock hold are tools that are used so that guns don’t have to be. Take those away and you don’t have much of a choice left. Hugs and good intentions don’t work on junkies with broken bottles.

    “Tasers have been used a lot, for some very minor things…”
    That’s a procedural fault, not a technological one.

    “and in most cases of taser use, police officers wouldn’t consider using a firearm.”
    …and taking away the taser takes away a choice.

    “I think they have a use, but it needs to be defined a bit more clearly.”
    I agree. Tasers don’t kill people; poor use of them can, maybe, sometimes kill people (and getting hit with something that “can, maybe, sometimes kill” is better than taking two shots from a 9mm in your center of mass. Shit like that is fatal). I can see tasering Mr. Dziekanski (the Vancouver airport taser death) once, but zapping him three more times while he was down, then kneeling on his neck was way too much.
    That’s a procedural fault. Blaming a tool because people use it wrong is blaming an inanimate object for the faults of a moral agent.

    1. Here’s the question that I’ve asked in every discussion on Tasers:

      Have shootings by police decreased since the widespread dissemination of Tasers? Have they done their putative job or are they just torture devices?

  30. Because of the seemingly increasing amount of violence and confrontationalism (is it a word?) by cops in the last few years, my guess is the latter.

    There really used to be cops like Andy and Barney, I’m old enough to remember. As a kid I was taught to trust cops. Alas, that is a joke now.

  31. Hugs and good intentions don’t work on junkies with broken bottles.

    And alienating them does not take away their inalienable rights.

    That’s a procedural fault. Blaming a tool because people use it wrong is blaming an inanimate object for the faults of a moral agent.

    And it is also a great argument for taking away the tool.

    I mean, no American can handle the dangers posed by marijuana use, so I can’t legally have any, and billions of gov’t dollars are spent to make sure that is the case.

    The solution to procedural failure is simple – more onerous procedures.

    I propose that any law enforcement officer who uses a taser (or a pepper-ball paint gun, etc…) takes a class for 10 hours per week on its safe use, and has to fill out 30 pages of paperwork each time it is used. Any civilian user must carry 5 million in liability coverage. Also, camera’s should be mandatory for both.

  32. Jake0748 – have you ever seen “Alice’s Restaurant” the movie? “Officer Obie” was a real local cop in the area, and is the very one that Norman Rockwell painted on more than one occasion. You’re right. No more.

  33. mdh “Hugs and good intentions don’t work on junkies with broken bottles.”
    “And alienating them does not take away their inalienable rights.”
    Huh? When a guy is running at you, brandishing a weapon, zapping them to drop them is alienating them? What’s shooting them, then? If you have the choice of one or the other, and you take away the less-lethal one, what do you have left?

    “That’s a procedural fault. Blaming a tool because people use it wrong is blaming an inanimate object for the faults of a moral agent.”
    “And it is also a great argument for taking away the tool.”
    No. It’s a good argument for better training. You don’t take away everybody’s car because some people speed. You, instead, send the speeders to traffic school. If they continue to not play nicely then, and only then, do you take away their car (and only those of the abusers).

    “I propose that any law enforcement officer who uses a taser (or a pepper-ball paint gun, etc…) takes a class for 10 hours per week on its safe use, and has to fill out 30 pages of paperwork each time it is used. Any civilian user must carry 5 million in liability coverage. Also, camera’s should be mandatory for both.”
    Reasonable levels of training, insurance of compliance, and punishment for abuse are all valid ways of making sure that the tools that are used are used properly.

  34. Modus – “Reasonable levels of training, insurance of compliance, and punishment for abuse are all valid ways of making sure that the tools that are used are used properly”.

    Unfortunately, none of that is happening these days.

    1. I would just like to say that I have known lots of cops who were really nice people. The cops in San Francisco were almost universally fantastic. I always felt like they were on my side. It only takes one out of a hundred to destroy that. When you carry a gun and a nightstick and a taser, it doesn’t matter if there are thousands of great cops. One asshole with a weapon and a legal excuse to use it fucks the system up for everybody.

  35. Modus –

    Positing the “junkie with a broken bottle” argument is alienating one side over another. It’s also a strawman, and a terrible debate tactic. Mind if I posit the existance of a “cop with a chip on his shoulder”?

    If you have the choice of one or the other, and you take away the less-lethal one, what do you have left?

    Millions of options, unless you’ve been trained to ONLY use a gun to solve a problem. The whole world looks like it’s made of nails when all you have is a hammer.

    You don’t take away everybody’s car because some people speed.

    No, but everyone needs insurance in order to have the privilege of driving one on the public roads (at least in my state with its mostly sane laws).

    Reasonable levels of training, insurance of compliance, and punishment for abuse are all valid ways of making sure that the tools that are used are used properly.

    And I did not in any way mean “insurance of compliance”, i meant Liability Insurance – just like I need for my car because it is a dangerous tool without the proper incentive to operate it responsibly).

    Re: Training, clearly we agree it is currently insufficient.

    Re: punishment for abuse, that requires documentation of abuse. Best way to do it is to make the tool document its own use.

    Personally I’d like to go a step further and see each police officer who is issued a weapon of any sort wearing an audio-video recording device that is wiped at the end of each incident-free shift. As public servants their right-to-privacy is reduced while on the job. Is that “reasonable insurance of compliance”?

    B/c i know no other way to get past the thin blue line and into the truth of the matter.

  36. Antinous, I totally agree with that.

    I give the police a hard time to the degree they abuse their authority.

    I expect a professional to respond when I call 911. It hurts me, you, and everyone around us when we can’t count on that.

  37. Jake0748 Modus – “Reasonable levels of training, insurance of compliance, and punishment for abuse are all valid ways of making sure that the tools that are used are used properly”.
    “Unfortunately, none of that is happening these days.”
    Not enough of it, anyway. At least the cops in Vancouver don’t own an APC with a 50cal, eh?

    “Positing the “junkie with a broken bottle” argument is alienating one side over another.”
    Cops deal with people who do bad things. That’s what they’re there for.

    “It’s also a strawman, and a terrible debate tactic.”
    I’ve lived in a bad neighbourhood. It’s hardly a strawman.

    “Mind if I posit the existance of a “cop with a chip on his shoulder”?”
    You don’t have to posit them. I agree that they exist. Tasers aren’t the problem. They are.

    “Millions of options, unless you’ve been trained to ONLY use a gun to solve a problem. The whole world looks like it’s made of nails when all you have is a hammer.”
    Are you arguing against me, or not? I’m for giving them more options. Sometimes, force is necessary. Tasers are a better option in some situations than guns. Taking away the taser leaves only the gun.

    “Personally I’d like to go a step further and see each police officer who is issued a weapon of any sort wearing an audio-video recording device that is wiped at the end of each incident-free shift. As public servants their right-to-privacy is reduced while on the job. Is that “reasonable insurance of compliance”?”
    Cool. They’ll get that about the same time I get my silver jumpsuit and hovercar. In the meantime, life is rarely ideal. My three point plan is about the best we can reasonably do for now. If elected, I promise you, the good people of this great nation to…

  38. Tasers are a better option in some situations than guns

    And not escalating the situation by introducing a gun (electrical or otherwise) is even better when it’s an option. You know, like when someone is just upset and non-violently non-compliant because people are being jackasses to him at the airport for no reason they feel they need to tell him.

    My grandfather had a metal plate in his head courtesy of the shoes of the Boston mafia in the late 40’s. He was a police officer. No gun would have helped him. Had he had a gun he’d be dead and I’d never exist. His mistake was arresting someone without proper backup in a mafia neighborhood. But I digress.

    I’d almost rather see the junkie shot by the police than tasered, at least then we can document the atrocities and pinpoint the perps in uniform.

    As of now tasers are not regulated that way. Using them, at minimum, should be at least as much of a hassle for the officer as firing a real gun at a civillian. He should have to justify each pull of the trigger, just like with a real gun.

  39. mouseoperandi: You are making a pretty broad assumption that 1: the uses of taser are all in situations where force is needful, and the officer is going for the lesser force. There are too many accounts of the things being used when the only force needed is a bit of patience on the part of the officer.

    The procedural fault is a lack of repercussion for the mis-uses which don’t lead to dead people.

    Because the number of people who weren’t “running at [them] brandishing a weapon”, The kid in the UCLA Library was talking. He got zapped, repeatedly, from several cops.

    The protester in St. Paul who was just lying on the ground.

    The person on the bus in Vancouver.

    The dead guy in the airport.

    No violence. No threat.

    Tased. Repeatedly.

    Antinous: I agree. There’s an aphorism in military planning: one doesn’t plan for what the enemy will do, but for what the enemy can do (note; this is not an apologia for tactics. Tactics are responses to what the enemy is doing. A lot of cops seem to be jumping to the idea that anyone who is being less than totally deferential is an immediate threat to life and limb. A taser allows for trial, and sentence, of contempt of cop, right then; right there). As a result the generic tolerance (and comfort around) cops of my youth has gone by the boards.

    Knowing a lot of cops, personally, hasn’t done anything to ameliorate that sense of alienation.

    MDH: I agree whole heartedly. Tasing ought to have a review, much like a shooting. The cop has to justify it, and there have to be guidelines.

  40. mdhAs “As of now tasers are not regulated that way. Using them, at minimum, should be at least as much of a hassle for the officer as firing a real gun at a civillian. He should have to justify each pull of the trigger, just like with a real gun.”
    Agreed. Use of force (any force) should always be justified/documented.

    Terry Karney “mouseoperandi:”
    Squeak?

    “You are making a pretty broad assumption that 1: the uses of taser are all in situations where force is needful, and the officer is going for the lesser force. There are too many accounts of the things being used when the only force needed is a bit of patience on the part of the officer.”
    No, that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that it just another tool. Taking away that tool leaves the police one less option. I am in no way defending the “I don’t want to take time to negotiate with this guy, so I’ll just zap him” mentality that seems to have taken hold with a percentage of the police force. The Vancouver case withthe poor Polish sap who was angry and did pick up a potential weapon and did brandish it menacingly, if memory serves, the first zap may have been justified. The other three, not at all.
    If force is necessary and the police have no less-lethal/non-lethal tools in their inventory all they have left is the gun.

  41. well well, looks like they are finding evidence that Tasers change output over time. Which spells trouble for the maker, eh?

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