CPC Chair Submits Interim Taser Report to Public Safety Minister Day
Ottawa, December 12, 2007 - Paul E. Kennedy, Chair of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP (CPC), today submitted his Interim Report concerning the RCMP's use of the Conducted Energy Weapon (CEW), commonly known as the Taser, to the Minister of Public Safety Stockwell Day, following a request made by the Minister on November 20, 2007.
The interim report includes 10 recommendations for immediate implementation that address concerns identified throughout the document.
"The most powerful asset in a police officer's arsenal is public support. Anything that erodes that support reduces the ability of officers to successfully perform their duties on behalf of the public," said Mr. Kennedy. "Because of this dynamic relationship, effective policing policies are critical to ensuring public confidence in the accountability of both individual members and the RCMP as a whole."
Mr. Kennedy's review is complementary to his Chair-Initiated Complaint into RCMP actions surrounding the in-custody death of Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver International Airport on October 14, 2007. The report also builds on the work already undertaken by the Commission on the use of CEWs, as referred in its June 2007 annual report.
The report's executive summary and recommendations can be found in the attached backgrounder. Given the short timeframe to complete the document, the full Interim Report is immediately available upon request in English only and will be available in the near future in both English and French on the CPC website at www.cpc-cpp.gc.ca.
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The most powerful asset in a police officer's arsenal is public support. Anything that erodes that support reduces the ability of an officer to successfully discharge his/her responsibility on behalf of the public. For that reason, law enforcement use of the conducted energy weapon (CEW),1 and other use of force techniques, is a public policy issue. The very nature of policing and the dynamics of the relationship between the police and those who are policed call into question actions and techniques vested with law enforcement personnel that would otherwise be illegal to most citizens.
The police need tools and techniques that enable them to justifiably and reasonably do their job of enforcing laws and protecting society, while at the same time protecting themselves. On the other hand, citizens have the right not to be subject to unreasonable police practices and behaviours that constitute abuse and erode civil liberties. Because of this dynamic relationship, policing policies are critical to the public's perception of the police in that they establish standards by which the RCMP as a whole and its members individually may be held accountable. As such, policy development is central to police governance.
The CEW is currently one of several use of force weapons available to law enforcement. As such, the CEW has a role in specific situations that require less than lethal alternatives to reduce the risk of injury or death to both the officer and the individual when use of force is required. In other words, it is an option in cases where lethal force would otherwise have been considered. However, CEW use has expanded to include subduing resistant subjects who do not pose a threat of grievous bodily harm or death and on whom the use of lethal force would not be an option. The question to be addressed then is in what situations are CEWs not appropriate for use.
The Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP (Commission) is not recommending an outright moratorium on CEW use by the RCMP, as the weapon has a role in certain situations. Rather, the CEW needs to be appropriately classified in use of force models for very specific behaviours involving very specific situations. This means restricting the use of the CEW in both push stun and probe modes and classifying it an "impact weapon", permissible only in those situations where an individual is behaving in a manner classified as being "combative" or posing a risk of "death or grievous bodily harm."
Current RCMP policy classifies the CEW as an "intermediate" device placing it in the same category as oleoresin capsicum spray. This classification permits use of the weapon for those situations where an individual is exhibiting behaviours that are deemed "resistant", and not just "combative" or posing a risk of "death or grievous bodily harm" to the officer, themselves or the general public. It is the position of the Commission that the placement of the CEW as an "intermediate" device authorizes deployment of the weapon earlier than reasonable.
The current approach by the RCMP clearly illustrates a shift in permissible usage from the original intent in 2001, which was more restrictive in that the weapon was to be used to subdue individual suspects who resisted arrest, were combative or who were suicidal. The Commission refers to this expanded and less restrictive use as "usage creep". This has resulted in deployment of the weapon outside stated objectives as illustrated by cases that have been reviewed by the Commission over the past six years where the individuals have exhibited behaviours that were clearly non-combative or where there was no active resistance.
Current RCMP policy for CEW use has evolved without adequate, if any, reference to the realities of the weapon's use by the RCMP. Changes to policy appear to have appropriately considered the experiences of external sources, but failure to correlate this data to RCMP-specific experiences amounts to a significant oversight, which should be redressed at the earliest opportunity.
Of particular concern is the fact that there are currently 2,840 CEWs within the RCMP and since introduction, 9,132 members have been trained to use the CEW, yet there exists no empirical data generated by the RCMP as to the benefits, or detriments, of using the weapon. The CEW has been deployed in push stun or probe mode over 3,000 times since its introduction in December 2001, yet not one annual report has been produced and the information captured on the Conducted Energy Weapon Usage Form has not been thoroughly examined nor utilized in the development of current CEW policy. This is further exacerbated by the fact that the CEW data base at headquarters has only been fully operational since late 2005, yet the CEW was first deployed in the field in late 2001. Accurate and meaningful data on CEW use is crucial in terms of understanding when and why members are employing certain use of force techniques and enabling senior officers to take corrective action when necessary.
Failure to properly collect, collate or analyze its own data means that the RCMP is unable, by its own inaction, to relate any external research to RCMP use of the CEW. Six years after the introduction of the CEW to the RCMP arsenal, there exists neither comprehensive nor even more cursory analyses readily available to the Commission to assist in conducting this review. This neglect means that the RCMP has been unable to implement systemic accountability processes, such as public reporting, and cannot evaluate what effects its policy changes have had on CEW use, training or officer and public safety. In effect, CEW use was liberalized without a complete thoughtful analysis or strategic plan, which amounts to a critical shortfall in the management and oversight of the CEW.
Supervision of those members that use the CEW is another method for ensuring appropriateness. Though the Commission was not able to fully examine the data pertaining to the number of members and instructors trained to use the CEW according to rank, the numbers tend to indicate that not all supervisors in the field are trained on the CEW. Yet, those supervisors are the ones who are responsible for the members under their control who may be authorized to use the weapon, and complete the necessary forms that are submitted to headquarters. The Commission is of the opinion that any corrective action that may be needed for members who improperly use CEWs is impeded in those situations where the supervisor is not trained and certified.
A mechanism is needed to ensure ongoing compliance with the RCMP use of force model and current CEW policy during operational use. The RCMP has acknowledged that proper assessment and accountability relating to the use of the CEW requires adequate reporting and analysis. This information is crucial in resolving concerns about use and developing appropriate and applicable policies and practices. In addition to the lack of RCMP-wide evaluations of CEW use, there has been little done to determine how CEW use has affected the application of other use of force options. These too are key considerations in determining the overall merits of the CEW. To ensure consistency of practice and policies and to establish a defined accountability mechanism, in addition to enhancing transparency, a National Use of Force Coordinator within the RCMP is essential.
Training programs must ensure that RCMP members learn to appropriately deploy a CEW and that the decision-making process and assessment of situational factors according to the use of force model is appropriate and justifiable when using the weapon. The use of force model is taught extensively during cadet training at Depot when cadets receive training for almost all other types of intervention options, including the use of firearms. CEW training, however, is not taught at the same time as the other use of force options; though this appears to be changing. Currently, CEW training can be provided years after completion of cadet training at Depot and the requirement of yearly re-certification has decreased to every three years. The Commission believes that this time period is too long and that biannual re-certification is more appropriate. This will ensure that those permitted to use CEWs remain current with policy, policy shifts and situational assessment techniques and experiences in the use of force model.
The tragic occurrences associated with CEW use in the past few months have raised the level of public concern regarding the weapon. The RCMP relies upon studies that speak to the relative safety of CEWs as a less lethal technology. However, many of these same studies note the lack of research in relation to "at risk groups". It is imperative that research be continued to establish the safety levels for "at risk groups" and to determine whether, by virtue of the very symptomology exhibited by these groups (i.e. drug use or psychiatric disorders), they may be exposed to a disproportionate number of police interventions where CEW use may be deemed appropriate.
When examining CEW use by law enforcement personnel, it is evident that consideration must be given to the condition of excited delirium. However, it should be noted that the term does not have universal acceptance within the medical community. Excited delirium, while still a contentious issue with some, has been identified in the literature to be a compelling medical concern that should be taken into account by law enforcement personnel. However, the topic as it relates to the use of CEWs rests in the currently held belief that individuals in a state of excited delirium are in immediate need of medical intervention and that treatment should not be delayed in the hopes that the individual's condition will improve. The position of the Commission is that CEWs are not the preferred option for dealing with individuals experiencing the condition(s) of excited delirium unless the behaviour is combative or poses a risk of death or grievous bodily harm to the officer, the individual or the general public. As such, the CEW is not a medical tool for dealing with individuals who appear to be experiencing the condition(s) of excited delirium. It is clear that RCMP involvement in CEW related research is necessary to further assist policy development and practice.
To address these concerns and others identified throughout this interim report, the Commission recommends, for immediate implementation, the following:
Recommendation 1: The RCMP immediately restrict the use of the conducted energy weapon by classifying it as an "impact weapon" in the use of force model and allow its use only in those situations where an individual is behaving in a manner classified as being "combative" or posing a risk of "death or grievous bodily harm" to the officer, themselves or the general public. This includes use of the device in both push stun and probe modes.
Recommendation 2: The RCMP only use the conducted energy weapon in situations where an individual appears to be experiencing the condition(s) of excited delirium when the behaviour is combative or poses a risk of death or grievous bodily harm to the officer, the individual or the general public.
Recommendation 3: The RCMP immediately communicate this change in use of force classification to all members.
Recommendation 4: The RCMP immediately redesign the conducted energy weapon training members receive to reflect the classification of the device as an "impact weapon".
Recommendation 5: The RCMP immediately amend the conducted energy weapon policy by instituting the requirement that re-certification occur every two years.
Recommendation 6: The RCMP immediately appoint a National Use of Force Coordinator responsible at a minimum for the following:
- National direction and coordination of all use of force techniques and equipment;
- Development of national policies, procedures and training for all use of force techniques and equipment;
- Implementation of national policies, procedures and training for all use of force techniques and equipment;
- Monitoring of compliance with national policies, procedures and training for all use of force techniques and equipment;
- Creation, maintenance and population of data bases related to the deployment of use of force techniques and equipment; and
- Analyses of trends in the use of all use of force techniques and equipment.
Recommendation 7: The RCMP immediately institute and enforce stricter reporting requirements on conducted energy weapon use to ensure that appropriate records are completed and forwarded to the national data base after every use of the weapon.
Recommendation 8: The RCMP produce a Quarterly Report on the use of the conducted energy weapon that will be distributed to the Minister of Public Safety, the Commissioner of the RCMP, the Chair of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP and all Commanding Officers in each Division that details at a minimum:
- Number and nature of incidents in which the conducted energy weapon is used;
- Type of use (i.e. push stun, probe, threat of use, de-holster, etc.);
- Number of instances medical care was required after use;
- Nature of medical concerns or conditions after use;
- Number of members and instructors trained;
- Number of members and instructors that successfully passed training and number that were unsuccessful at training; and
- Number of members and instructors that successfully re-certified and number that were unsuccessful at re-certification.
The Quarterly Report will be produced for a period of three years effective immediately.
Recommendation 9: The RCMP produce an Annual Report on the use of the conducted energy weapon that will be distributed to the Minister of Public Safety, the Commissioner of the RCMP, the Chair of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP and all Commanding Officers in each Division that is comprehensive of all Quarterly Reports for that year, and at a minimum details:
- All data required and analyzed in the Quarterly Report;
- Justifications for suggested or actual changes in policy;
- Justification for suggested or actual changes in training;
- An analysis of trends of use;
- An analysis of the relationship between use and officer/public safety; and
- An analysis of the relationship between use and suggested changes in policy and training.
The Annual Report will continue to be produced after the time period for the Quarterly Report has expired.
Recommendation 10: The RCMP continue to be engaged in conducted energy weapon related research looking at medical, legal and social aspects of the weapon's use. This includes focusing at a minimum on:
- CEW use, the infliction of pain and the measurement of such pain;
- Appropriateness of CEW application in contrast to other forms of use of force interventions;
- CEW use against vulnerable or at-risk populations;
- Alternate use of force/intervention options when dealing with people who present with symptoms of excited delirium;
- CEW use, excited delirium and sudden or unexpected death within the context of a rural setting or Northern policing; and
- Connections between CEW use, excited delirium and the possibility of death.
This includes notably collaborative research projects being carried out by the Canadian Police Research Centre (CPRC).
The Commission intends to further examine RCMP use of the conducted energy weapon. With challenges in obtaining accurate and meaningful data, the need to fully evaluate existing RCMP data on CEW use by RCMP members, the amount of research and literature that exists on the subject, and the necessity to conduct cross-jurisdictional comparisons, the Commission intends to produce a Final Report by the summer of 2008 that expands on these and many other issues identified to date. The Final Report will include comprehensive recommendations.
Paul E. Kennedy
Chair, Commission for Public Complaints
Against the RCMP
1Conducted energy weapon (CEW) is also commonly referred to as a conducted energy device (CED), Taser® or stun gun. These terms can be used interchangeably.