Monday, November 26, 2007

Taser problem

Out of nowhere, Canada suddenly has a spate of murders by police using Tasers, the most famous being the youtubed death of Robert Dziekanski.  I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop, and here it is (emphasis in red):

Three months before Robert Dziekanski was tasered, the RCMP adopted a change in force protocol that allows officers to fire multiple shocks to control people under certain circumstances.

Police say medical evidence shows that, without tasers, prolonged and dangerous struggles occur with people suffering from what they term ‘excited delirium.’ It prompted the force to release new rules in August allowing officers to use tasers multiple times to more quickly gain control.

The RCMP define excited delirium as a potentially fatal ‘state of extreme mental and physiological excitement that is characterized by extreme agitation, hyperthermia, hostility, exceptional strength and endurance without apparent fatigue.’

Until August, officers trained to use stun guns were cautioned to avoid using them more than once because of concerns about health effects.”


“The most current policy was relaxed after the force said it came across new medical information about how to best handle people with symptoms of excited delirium.

Cpl. Gilles said officers are taught to get people suffering from excited delirium under control as quickly as possible in order to get them into a state where they can safely get medical help.

‘They can't be treated until they're controlled,’ he said. ‘Taser is the tool that gives us the best option.’

But the term ‘excited delirium’ is not formally recognized by the World Health Organization nor the American Medical Association as an actual psychological or medical condition.

However, the condition is being used increasingly by coroners tasked with attributing causes of death among victims in police custody. David Evans, Ontario's regional supervising coroner for investigations, described it as a ‘forensic term’ not a medical one.”

While we can and should condemn the individual police thugs who use violence to kill people, this is primarily a head office issue.  The RCMP head office made up a medical condition, and then changed their policies and training to allow multiple jolts.  I wonder if it was the Taser manufacturer who supplied the ‘new medical information’.

Removing Tasers from the arsenal without improving police training, which appears to be the easiest political solution, will just lead to police killing people in other ways, including using guns.  The Taser issue is a medical one.  People in the form of emotional distress which tends to attract police attention are also often going to be in acute physical distress, and applying an electrical jolt to the heart can’t be the preferred medical solution.  The only testing such devices receive is done by the manufacturers, or by researchers paid by them.  Proper research may very well show that the people who attract the Taser attention are the very people for whom Tasering is medically dangerous.  There should be a moratorium on Taser use until the proper independent studies are completed.  The knee-jerk reaction of banning Tasers outright seems dumb, as there appears to be a real need for forms of restraint less final than the use of guns, and forcing police to rely solely on muscle to restrain violence is unfair to the police, whose physical safety should also be protected to the extent possible.