Tasers no cure-all for police shootings

stun gunIs this really the only way that   Toronto police can think of to  “de-escalate” what they term “EPD” incidents?

When the Toronto Sun editorial and campaigners against police shooting of people in mental distress can find themselves in easy agreement you know that something is going very wrong with policing in our city. The current inquiry into three incidents, the commissioning of an internal inquiry are  further evidence that policing of incidents involving emotionally distressed people is at a crisis point in this city [and it’s not Toronto- other cities are struggling too.]

Police chief Bill Blair’s response to his officers having shot so many  distressed Torontonians lately is that he wants all his officers to be equipped with and trained in use of a less-lethal option: Tazers “stun guns” at a cost of about $4.2 million– or about $2,000 for each device..  The police service is currently seeking approval from the Police Service Board for an initial  tranche of the less-lethal weapons for $400,000. 

Emotionally Disturbed = emotionally distressed 
Police officers do certainly need more options when it comes to better ways to deal with what they term EPD  – “Emotionally Disturbed Person” – incidents but a stun guns is no more the answer than a cattle prod would be. having a new gizmo might sound a whizzo idea for a holiday wish list but they detract attention and may just get in the way of figuring out what we really do need . If police officers have less violent options fewer of them might be traumatized by their own experiences in such incidents.

A simple [not easy, but simple] first step might be to recognize that emotionally disturbed persons are also emotional distressed people . We wouldn’t even need to change the acronym but it might help officers in difficult situation remember that force is not their only, maybe not even their best option. Police officers have a difficult job and have to make difficult calls in an instant, but weapons: be they lethal, non-lethal or less lethal are not as good at dealing with complex messy human situations as the human brain –  and every officer comes ready-equiped with one of those.

Chief Bill Blair is likely pretty busy this week watching videos of the mayor but you can contact him about this.  You can also contact your councillor, and you can contact the Vice Chair of the Police Services Board, Cllr Michael Thompson  who is already  inclined to vote  “no” to the request.  Give some power to his elbow.


Why not let them all know what you think.

Go on give them  all  a busier day: fill their inbox – details  included below.

Bill Blair, Toronto Police Chief
tel.: 416-808-8000
fax: 416-808-8002

Alok Mukherjee, Chair, Toronto Police Services Board
web:online submission form
tel.: 416-808-8080
fax: 416-808-8082

Councillor Michael Thompson

Vice Chair, Toronto Police Services Board

Ward 37 Scarborough Centre

Toronto City Hall

100 Queen Street West, Suite B24
Toronto, ON  M5H 2N2
Phone: 416-397-9274
Fax: 416-397-9280


Toronto Sun Editorial, Aug 2013
stun gun

Tasers no cure-all for police shootings

Thursday August 29th, 2013 


A Taser is a tool for the police to use. Nothing more.

It’s not a cure-all when it comes to ending armed confrontations with mentally ill or emotionally disturbed individuals who are incapable of responding to police commands.

Tasers give a properly trained police officer another option, short of a gun, to end stand-offs peacefully.

Improperly used, they can lead to serious injury and death in situations which don’t require them.

There was a reason why, until this week, Toronto police only issued Tasers to supervisory officers and Emergency Task Force members. It was out of concern Tasers, improperly used, could lead to tragic deaths like that of Robert Dziekanski, killed at the Vancouver airport in 2007 after being confronted by four RCMP officers.

In the wake of the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim last month on the 505 Dundas St. W. streetcar by Const. James Forcillo, now charged with second-degree murder, Community Safety Minister Madeleine Meilleur has announced all police officers in Ontario will be able to carry Tasers.

While Police Chief Bill Blair supports the idea, where is the money going to come from within his cash-strapped force?

Queen’s Park isn’t offering any for training, or for the $1,500 cost of each Taser.

Further, is the 12 hours of training police will receive sufficient to ensure Tasers will be used properly and only in situations requiring them?

Finally, the use of Tasers is secondary to two major challenges we face in reducing these tragedies.

The first is ensuring police use-of-force guidelines and de-escalation training properly prepare officers for dealing with armed suspects who are incapable of responding rationally to police commands.

The second is addressing the fact the provincial government’s practice of de-institutionalizing the mentally ill, without putting supports in the community to help them, is creating these tragedies.

Yatim’s family says he had no history of mental illness and we believe them.

But his actions, according to witnesses — threatening female passengers with a knife in one hand and his penis in the other — were irrational.

Unless we can help such individuals before a confrontation occurs, there will be more and more of these incidents, regardless of how many officers have Tasers.


Toronto Sun, 24th Sep 2013

you tased an 80yr old womanCops carrying Tasers draws strong opposition


People protesting the issuing of Tasers to front-line Toronto Police officers arrive at City Hall for a Toronto Police Services Board meeting Tuesday, September 24, 2013. (Stan Behal/Toronto Sun)

More Coverage

Canadian Civil Liberties Association frowns on Tasers

TPSB wants a Taser roll-out report by November meeting

TORONTO – Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair’s push for more of his officers to carry Tasers drew strong opposition Tuesday night.

Some 40 speakers at a Toronto Police Services Board meeting echoed a resounding “No” to providing the weapons to the city’s frontline officers.

“How many people think the G20 would have been made better if officers had Tasers?” speaker Sakura Saunders said. “Not one. Not even the police officers here.”

Former Toronto mayor John Sewell wants video cameras attached to Tasers and said that officers should be required to show they took steps to try to defuse a situation before using a stun gun. If not, the officer should be reprimanded.

He said de-escalation training for police has been ongoing since 1994.

“I think you have to say there’s a (police) culture problem here and culture eats training for lunch,” he said.

Prior to Aug. 27 — when Community Safety Minister Madeleine Meilleur approved the wider use of stun guns for frontline police officers across Ontario — only supervisors were allowed to carry the weapon.

Tuesday’s meeting comes nearly two months after the shooting death of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim in an empty TTC streetcar. Yatim was shot eight times by one office, then Tasered by another. He died at the scene.

Const. James Forcillo was charged with second-degree murder and is out on bail.

Blair was not present at the meeting. He is seeking approval for buying more Tasers at a cost of $1,500 a piece, although there is no price tag yet for outfitting the force.

Deputy Chief Michael Federico maintained public trust in police hasn’t wavered.

“The decision to deploy (officers) beyond the current situation will be a product of discussion between the chief and the board,” he said after the meeting. “(Tasers) offer one more option and police should have as many options as possible to help diffuse situations. The decision to use force is the fundamental question.”

Board chairman Alok Mukherjee said a position on Tasers likely won’t come until later this fall or early next year.

About 25 protesters from Disarm Toronto Police held a rally outside City Hall prior to the police board meeting to voice opposition to providing Tasers to more officers.

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