(Paul Schneidereit, Chronical Herald) Halifax, N.S. – Deployment of the Taser has saved thousands of lives in Canada since the stun gun’s introduction in 1999, according to police spokesmen.
There are any number of pungent words for this claim, but let’s employ a polite one. Poppycock.
Have the number of fatal police shootings of criminal suspects fallen by thousands? No, and the totals were never that high to begin with. Have the number of suicides dropped by that magnitude? No. Again, the totals were never, ever in that range. What about the number of police officers killed? That tragic number was also, thankfully, much, much smaller.
So where did police officials come up with the “4,000 lives saved in Canada since 1999″ figure? Beats me. But I don’t think it’s just a coincidence that Taser International officials have used the same phraseology – 4,000 lives saved by Tasers since 1999 – in the past, while referring to the U.S. experience. (That number has since been adjusted upwards by the Taser’s makers, to at least 9,000). Even in that context, I don’t believe anyone’s conclusively shown that thousands of people who would have been shot dead were instead Tasered – and so remain alive.
That’s not to say that Tasers couldn’t indeed save lives in certain circumstances. In fact, I have no doubt they have done so. But thousands? In Canada, since 1999? Not a chance.
Defenders of the Taser, I’ve noticed, employ the “thousands of lives saved” argument less and less. Good thing, too.
For instance, the public was not going to swallow that police would have had to use their firearms when, called to assist in a medical emergency, they instead Tasered a diabetic man in Amherst last year. (Police still defend that bit of public service, by the way.)
Or that bullets would have flown in a Dartmouth home last February when a mother called the cops on her uncooperative 17-year-old daughter. (Another justice gem. The Nova Scotia Supreme Court just overturned the girl’s acquittal on charges of assaulting the police officers who Tasered the teen while removing her from her own room.)
Or that gunfire would have been the result when an 80-something-year-old man in B.C. was Tasered in a hospital bed – I kid you not – after he had resisted treatment efforts.
I could go on, but you get the picture.
Still, let’s go to one more example, that of poor Robert Dziekanski, the disoriented and despondent Polish immigrant who was repeatedly Tasered by four strapping Mounties at the Vancouver International Airport in 2007 and subsequently died. If the RCMP officers had not had Tasers, would they have pulled their guns and shot the man, who apparently alarmed the law enforcement constables by picking up a stapler? Clearly, the answer is no.
So how did we get to the point that four policemen would walk into an airport, be told of an agitated man who didn’t speak English and, less than a minute after arriving at his location, shock him with Tasers FIVE times – after he didn’t respond to their commands in English – and pin him to the ground with a knee on his neck until he had stopped breathing?
The police conduct in that incident was appalling. Their excuses and justifications since then have been nauseating.
He was sweating profusely. So he needed to be Tasered? He was suffering from alcohol withdrawal. The autopsy found no traces of drugs or alcohol, and since when have police been trained to Taser first and ask questions later? He didn’t respond to commands. The police were TOLD he didn’t speak English, for God’s sake.
What happened to Robert Dziekanski isn’t only a disgrace to the RCMP’s image, however. Testimony at a current public inquiry in B.C. has revealed that the airport official who processed Dziekanski first had noticed, more than eight hours later as she was ending her shift, that the Polish immigrant was still wandering the arrivals area. She went home without taking any further action. An airport official who dealt with Dziekanski’s mother and a family friend waiting to meet him told them to go home after a brief check of surveillance cameras showed no one of his description. She didn’t even bother to pick up a phone and ask anyone in that area if they had seen Dziekanski.
They didn’t care. Neither did the Mounties. As a result, an innocent man died and his mother’s life’s been shattered.