VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Police should restrict their use of Taser stun guns, but there is no need for a moratorium on the weapon while safety concerns are studied, according a Canadian report released on Thursday.
The weapons can be used safely, but police must also recognize they have the potential to kill, and further study is needed on their medical effects, according to the report of British Columbia inquiry into a fatal incident near Vancouver.
Inquiry head Thomas Braidwood said he was recommending police be able to keep the weapons while safety questions are resolved, because they are a potentially valuable tool for officers as an alternative to firearms.
“From a public policy standpoint, you have to balance the good and the bad ... life is not easy,” Braidwood, a retired British Columbia judge, told reporters in releasing the 546-page report in Vancouver.
Tasers, also known as conductive energy weapons, disable people with a 50,000-volt jolt of electricity, and have become increasingly popular with police around the world. They can also be sold to the public in the United States.
British Columbia’s provincial inquiry stems from the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski in an incident in which he was shocked several times in a confrontation with Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers at Vancouver International Airport in 2007.
The exact cause of his death has never been determined.
A video recording of him screaming on the floor as he died was broadcast around the world, and became the flash point for concerns in Canada that police were misusing the weapon.
Dziekanski’s mother and other critics of the weapons had called for a ban.
Braidwood issued 19 recommendations, including that police should only use Tasers against a suspect who is causing bodily harm or is about to, and the officer has no alternative.
He also said it should only be used against suspects involved in serious crimes, noting that in some cases the weapons have been fired at suspects who were simply running away from officers.
Police in British Columbia have been using Tasers since 1999. Braidwood said there have been 25 deaths associated with their use in Canada and over 300 deaths in the United States.
The weapon’s maker, Taser International Inc., is not happy with the report and said the restrictions will force police to use more dangerous alternatives.
“It appears that politics has trumped science in the commission (inquiry),” it said.
Taser, based in Scottsdale, Arizona, says there is no scientific evidence the guns have been directly responsible for any deaths, which it asserts were likely caused by other issues, including what the company and police say is “excited delirium.”
Braidwood criticized the use of that phrase, saying it allows officials to avoid finding the real cause of death. He called on the government to do more studies on the effect of the powerful electrical jolt on heart muscles.
He also chastised police for not developing their own policies on how the weapons could be used safely, instead of relying the manufacturer’s recommendations and assurances of safety.
British Columbia said it would immediately accept all of Braidwood’s recommendations for all provincially regulated police agencies.
Braidwood acknowledged he did not have the authority to force the RCMP, Canada’s national police force, to follow his recommendations, but suggested the province require them to be put in place when the two governments negotiate a new policing contract.
Braidwood is still collecting evidence on police conduct in the incident the night Dziekanski died, and is not expected to release that report until next year. The Polish government has also been represented in the inquiry.
Reporting by Allan Dowd, editing by Rob Wilson