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VPD Taser use down 64 per cent in 2008

The Vancouver Police Department's Taser use decreased by 64 per cent in 2008 over the previous year, according to a report presented yesterday to Vancouver’s Police Board.

The VPD fired the weapon 27 times, while the Taser was present in another 36 incidents.

Police are not able to provide possible reasons for the sharp decline in Taser use, said VPD spokesperson Lindsey Houghton.

“There’s no one thing that we can put our finger on.”

Houghton said there have been no policy directive changes and no decrease in the number of officers using Tasers.

He also said he does not believe the decline can be attributed to negative media coverage of Tasers or the inquiry into the 2007 death of Robert Dziekanski who was stunned with the weapon by the RCMP.

But critics of Taser use said this may be a contributing factor in the decrease of use by the VPD.

“There could be what is called a scandal chill arising from the Dziekanski affair,” said Jason Gratl, vice president of the BC Civil Liberties Association.

Police may now be more conscious about the risks associated with the Taser and negative public reaction to their use, he said, adding that unofficial internal procedure may also be a factor.

“There can be express policy changes but there can also be changes in tacit or overt policing culture that remain largely undocumented,” he said.

In February, VPD Chief Constable Jim Chu released a statement supporting the force’s use of tasers.

“Tasers reduce injuries, save lives and work effectively. If we didn’t believe that, we wouldn’t use them,” he said in a statement.

The VPD was one of the first police forces to publicly release statistics of Taser use this year.

Media requests for data regarding the deployment of Tasers by municipal police forces across the country have often been difficult to obtain, according to an audit released in early January by the Canadian Newspaper Association.

The participants sent freedom-of-information requests to municipal police forces in all 10 provinces and the Yukon for forms that contain details about how the Taser was used. Some forces released the data after removing sensitive data, while others requested unusually large fees for the information.

For example, Winnipeg police requested $4,600, while the Hamilton police force outright refused the request.

This year’s RCMP Taser-use statistics have not yet been made available. In 2007, the police force reported the application of the weapon 496 times around BC.

At least 20 people in Canada have died after being shocked with a Taser by police. A number of rights-based organizations are calling for a moratorium on their use, including the BC Civil Liberties Association and Amnesty International.

The BCCLA is calling for enhanced police training in the use of physical force without resorting to the use of weapons, Gratl said.

The Braidwood public inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski is expected to resume Monday.

*An earlier version of this story compared the VPD's Taser use to its counterpart in Toronto. The story reported that Vancouver police use was three times lower than the Toronto Police Service, based on the population of the forces' jurisdiction. The information was based on an incorrect media report. The VPD's Taser use was lower, but not to that extent.

Garrett Zehr reports for The Hook.

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