Opinion Column

Taser support a delicious irony 0

Leo Knight Prime Time Crime columnist 24 hours (PHOTO SUBMITTED).

By Leo Knight, Law and Order, 24 hours Vancouver

Police use of Tasers is controversial. (FILE PHOTO)

Police use of Tasers is controversial. (FILE PHOTO)

Following the tragic and controversial police shooting death of Sammy Yatim on a street car last summer, Toronto Police Services Chief Bill Blair commissioned retired Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci to study the problem of police interaction with “people in crisis,” or mental health issues.

Last week, Iacobucci released his report, Police Encounters with People in Crisis. It’s a hard slog. But the learned judge managed to come up with 84 recommendations that Blair assured “won’t gather dust.”

That’s good, I suppose. Many of these types of reports want the world to be as their authors see it — rather that how it really is. This one is no exception, as it staggers from utopian nonsense to Sisyphean-type impossibilities.

Iacobucci spelled out the aim of his report on police use of force as “zero deaths.” Laudable, I suppose, but unrealistic.

While his recommendation that police receive the best in crisis de-escalation techniques is a good one — I am a great believer in this type of training — some incidents escalate from zero to 60 in a heartbeat. In those incidents, for the cop on the sharp end, there is no time to de-escalate — there is only time to react. A reality missed by the learned justice.

But the recommendation that was deliciously ironic was the one saying police should deploy conducted energy weapons — known as Tasers — to all members.

Following the death of Polish tourist Robert Dziekanski at YVR, this province went through a gut-wrenching machination of a public inquiry and criminal trials of officers involved that still haven’t seen an end.

The thread throughout this process was police shouldn’t use Tasers. They caused death when, in fact, they were designed as the bridge between batons and lethal force.

But no, the handwringers said they were brutal because one man died. I am not saying Dziekanski’s death was not a tragedy. Clearly it was. But the Taser was not the villain. The police reacted based on the training they had received at the time. Training, I might add, which has changed greatly since.

So Tasers have been taken away from police, for the most part, but now Iacobucci thinks Tasers are the solution.

There may come a time when the handwringers get it right, but it hasn’t happened in my lifetime. And don’t hold your breath.

Leo Knight is a former police officer, security expert and host of primetimecrime.com.  

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