VICTORIA - Taser use by police in British Columbia is down 87 per cent since Robert Dziekanski died at Vancouver's airport five years ago, prompting questions Tuesday from politicians wondering what police are doing now to control out-of-control people.
B.C. police officers used their Tasers 640 times in 2007, compared to 85 deployments last year, assistant deputy justice minister Clayton Pecknold told an all-party committee assessing the status of recommendations to tighten provincial Taser policy since Dziekanski's October 2007 death.
The figures had Liberal MLA John Slater wondering what police have been doing instead to subdue people who are potentially dangerous.
"How many of them have been shot by police?" said Slater. "What has happened in the last five years?"
Gabi Hoffmann, program manager for the police services division in the justice ministry, said police shootings have not increased since Dziekanski's death and the 2009 public inquiry and recommendations of former judge Thomas Braidwood, but she did not provide data.
Hoffmann, who accompanied Pecknold, told the committee police appear to be relying more heavily on verbal skills and physical tools other than Tasers when dealing with potentially dangerous situations.
Pecknold said he couldn't definitively explain why police Taser-use numbers have dropped since Dziekanski's death other than to say it's obvious police are limiting their use of Tasers when it comes to incidents when police resort to force.
But Slater was concerned.
"You go from 645 to 85 incidents, so are the police officers more exposed to danger from the public?" he asked outside the committee hearing.
Slater said he wanted to know if Taser use by police has declined across Canada.
Hoffmann said she didn't have national Taser-use data, but a recent report by the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP found threatened or actual use of the Taser by RCMP officers dipped 14 per cent from 2009.
The public complaint commission's report stated actual firing of the Taser declined by more than one-quarter from the previous year. The commission examined 597 reports filed by officers who either used their Taser or pulled it out of a holster.
In spring 2010, the Mounties introduced a new Taser policy, saying they would fire them at people only when they're hurting someone or clearly about to do so.
Abbotsford Police Const. Ian MacDonald, who did not attend the Victoria committee hearing, said he can confirm huge drops in Taser use by officers in his department, with only two Taser deployments this year.
He said Abbotsford officers were undergoing incident de-escalation training sessions Tuesday which involves offering better training in recognizing and handling people in states of emotional or mental upheaval who may have prompted Taser use in the past.
"The (Braidwood) recommendations have had an impact," MacDonald said."There has been a real acceptance by law enforcement and a real absorption of the training. There is a greater understanding of the application of the Taser and when is an appropriate application."
But MacDonald said the heightened attention drawn by Tasers has resulted in many officers not carrying Tasers even though they are certified to use the weapons.
"The other side is that because of the scrutiny, the issues in and around the Tasers, you will also find that fewer officers are carrying Tasers," he said.
But MacDonald stressed that police are not turning to their guns — a tool of last resort and deadly force.
"When we draw our pistol our intention is to stop the threat," he said.
The all-party committee is holding hearings "to inquire into the use of conducted energy weapons and to audit selected police complaints."
It has until the end of the year to assess the status of recommendations from Braidwood's two-pronged public inquiry into Dziekanski's death.
Braidwood, who is expected to appear before the committee next week, found what he called a lack of consistency in the way police use Tasers in B.C., and a troubling lack of government leadership in developing provincial Taser standards.
He also called for changes to the Police Act.
The B.C. government accepted Braidwood's recommendations.
Dziekanski died in October 2007 in an incident at Vancouver International Airport where he was shocked by Tasers several times during a confrontation with four RCMP officers.
Also on HuffPost:
RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson has the job of cleaning up the Mounties' internal disciplinary process. Mounties have repeatedly written the commissioner saying they <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/08/16/rcmp-resergeance-alliance_n_1788863.html" target="_hplink">disapprove of the job he's doing</a>, drawing <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/08/10/rcmp-emails-reveal-tension-bob-paulson-tim-chad_n_1763453.html" target="_hplink">sharp rebukes</a> from the tough-talking commissioner.
RCMP Cpl. Catherine Galliford was once the public face of the Missing Women's Task Force. She <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2012/05/09/bc-galliford-civil-claim.html" target="_hplink">filed a lawsuit against the RCMP</a>, alleging she was harassed, bullied and abused.
Former RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2006/12/06/zaccardelli.html" target="_hplink">resigned after admitting he gave incorrect testimony</a> to an inquiry looking into the Maher Arar affair.
RCMP Sgt. Maj. Hugh Stewart took on the nickname "Sergeant Pepper" for <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/1999/10/25/apec2991025.html" target="_hplink">pepper-spraying protesters</a> at the 1997 APEC Summit at UBC. He became particularly famous after pepper-spraying a CBC cameraman.
In 2008 the RCMP were accused of <a href="http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/518193--rcmp-to-review-funding-research-against-insite" target="_hplink">misusing public funds</a> to pay for studies aimed at undermining the legitimacy of InSite, a safe injection facility in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
Benjamin 'Monty' Robinson
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/07/20/benjamin-monty-robinson-rcmp_n_1690216.html" target="_hplink">Benjamin "Monty" Robinson</a> resigned from the RCMP after a string of incidents including a conviction for obstruction of justice after he hit and killed a motorcyclist then went home and drank vodka to "calm his nerves." He still faces a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/12/26/dziekanski-perjury-trial-taser-death_n_1169854.html" target="_hplink">perjury trial</a> for his role in the 2007 Taser incident that resulted in the death of Robert Dziekanski.
Robert Dziekanski died after being Tasered by a group of RCMP officers at Vancouver International Airport. A <a href="http://www.braidwoodinquiry.ca/report/" target="_hplink">public inquiry</a> later determined that Mounties were not justified in using Tasers to subdue the Polish immigrant, who appeared erratic and nervous after 10 hours of waiting to be picked up from the airport. A <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/12/26/dziekanski-perjury-trial-taser-death_n_1169854.html" target="_hplink">perjury trial</a> concerning the officers involved is still pending.
The first civilian commissioner of the RCMP from 2007 to 2011, Elliott's management style was criticized by senior officers who suggested he needed to anger management training. He <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2011/02/04/elliott-rcmp.html" target="_hplink">resigned in February 2011</a>.
Highway Of Tears
Meghan Rhoad (pictured here) of Human Rights Watch was lead researcher for a report that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/13/highway-of-tears-human-rights-watch-rcmp-rape_n_2675398.html?utm_hp_ref=canada" target="_hplink">levelled blistering allegations against the RCMP</a> for its alleged treatment of indigenous women. The report alleged that RCMP officers raped and abused aboriginals in British Columbia.
The <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/14/rcmp-watchdog-report-bullying_n_2687077.html?utm_hp_ref=canada" target="_hplink">RCMP has a bullying problem</a> that needs to be addressed by better training and record-keeping, said a report released by the force's watchdog group. The report released 718 harassment complaints filed between 2005 and 2011 and about <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/14/rcmp-watchdog-report-bullying_n_2687077.html?utm_hp_ref=canada" target="_hplink">90 per cent of the complaints involved bullying</a>, CBC reported.
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/14/rcmp-ottawa-child-abuse_n_2688293.html" target="_hplink">An unidentified Ottawa RCMP officer</a> is facing multiple charges after a child abuse investigation. The 41-year-old man is charged with three counts of aggravated assault, three counts of assault with weapon, one count of aggravated sexual assault, one count of failing to provide the necessities of life and one count of forcible confinement.