What constitutes appropriate force?

By P.A. Sévigny on September 4, 2008

Canadian police and other law enforcement officials will have to wait until 2009 to answer questions posed about the safe and efficient use of their ubiquitous ‘Taser’ stun guns.

Last year, after a tourist’s videotape showed several R.C.M.P. constables using their CEDs (Conducted Energy Device) to subdue and eventually kill visibly distressed and barely coherent Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs (C.A.P.C.) asked the Canadian Police Research Centre (CPRC) to prepare a complete and comprehensive report on the effective police use of CED weapons. The five-part, federally funded report will compare CEDs with other police weapons, including handguns. Police and assorted judicial experts are especially curious as to what the report has to say about a medical condition now described as ‘excited delirium’: a state of extreme mental and physiological excitement defined by extreme agitation, overt hostility and occasionally exaggerated physical strength. It is a common symptom of extreme mental illness (Schizophrenia) as well as the result of continuous and intensive drug abuse. However, since the report’s medical research must be  subject to an independent scientific peer group’s survey and analysis, CPRC executives admit there is no way the report can be ready for public scrutiny until 2009. Steve Palmer, the CPRC’s executive director, said the center’s report was far too important to leave any doubt as to its discipline and its veracity.

“It’s important  that this [report] is done well and done in a way that brings value to everybody concerned- the public, the police, and policy makers,” said Palmer.

While both police and government authorities understand the public’s concern about CEDs, police officers still believe it’s an acceptable ‘intermediate force option’.

As the publisher of Blue Line, Canada’s well-respected national law enforcement magazine, retired Toronto policeman Morley Lymburner knows something about a cop’s life on the streets.

“Police know they must always open their strategic options,” said Lymburner, “…and that’s after they’re being forced to reduce their tactical options.”

To exercise their authority, Lymburner believes police on the street have only a few options between their voice and their gun.

“You’ve got your voice,” he said, “…and then you’ve got your hands. You’ve got your stick and then you’ve got your gun. Street cops like the Taser because it’s an acceptable option that lies somewhere between questionable options like your stick and terminal options like your gun.”

As a publisher, Lymburner understands how recent events like the Dziekanski scandal and could affect the public’s concern as to how and when the police use their CEDs. But as a policeman, he believes the weapon has also proved itself to be an “acceptable intermediate force option”.

Denis DeFalco, a well-known NDG routier agrees with Lymburner. Late one night, as he happened to be walking home after a long night with friends in a St. Denis Street tavern, DeFalco saw a naked young woman screaming as she was running towards the Berri St. overpass near the Sherbrooke Street Metro.

“I caught her before she could toss herself off the overpass, “he said. “I fell backwards and held her from the back as she kept trying to jump.”

As DeFalco held the struggling girl, everybody was screaming and someone called 911. That’s when he started to get worried because he began to think the police might get the wrong idea.

“Once the police got there, they told me to stand away and when I rolled away, she got up, started screaming at them and that’s when they hit her with the Taser. She just collapsed in a heap and it was all over.”

When the police drove DeFalco home, the police told him the girl probably owed him her life. All DeFalco could remember was how the naked and hysterical girl dropped once she was hit by the Taser.

Critical observers and police experts across the country believe the CPRC’s conclusions will depend upon what medical experts now define as “excited delirium”.

DeFalco hopes the girl he saved is alive and as well. However, Robert Dziekanski, Montreal’s Quillem Registre and at least 20 other Canadians are dead after being momentarily electrocuted with a CED.  Even so, while police officials are anxious to read the CPRC’s report, most working police officers believe the CEDs are an acceptable “intermediate force option” that will soon become just another “tactical option” for police across the nation.

“After all,” said Lymburner. “It’s a lot better option than being shot.”

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