OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's national police force, criticized for excessive use of Tasers, said on Friday that, from now on, officers would only fire the electric stun guns at suspects who are combative or resisting arrest.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police policy change was prompted by outrage over the death of a Polish immigrant at the Vancouver, British Columbia, airport in October.
Robert Dziekanski died after police used Tasers and then restrained him -- an incident captured on film and broadcast around the world. He had been slowly moving away from police when hit by the Taser blasts.
The Taser stun gun incapacitates people through a 50,000-volt jolt of electricity. Police say they are a needed nonlethal alternative to firearms.
"The changes ... make it clear that, in certain instances, including instances where the Taser has been used in the past, it's not appropriate to use a Taser," RCMP Commissioner William Elliott told a news conference.
"It's not a total rewrite of our policy, nor is it anything akin to suggesting that Tasers are not an appropriate tool. They are and continue to be ... a very useful tool," he added, saying further changes in policy were possible.
The Mounties said police would only use Tasers when a subject was "displaying combative behaviors or is being actively resistant." Elliott said he could not define what constituted combative behavior.
Earlier this week, the RCMP complaints commission said Tasers should be reclassified as an "impact weapon" that would allow their use only when the target was an immediate threat.
"Front line staff ... will be held accountable for the actions that they take, including the actions with respect to the deployment of Tasers," Elliott said.
Taser International Inc, the maker of the weapon, says there is no scientific proof the guns have caused any deaths.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Rob Wilson