NEWS

Tasers give public false sense of hope, inquest hears

10/17/2013 12:38 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST
Could her sister still be alive today if officers had a Taser? That was the question Anita Wasowicz posed to a police trainer on the third day of a coroner’s inquest into three fatal police shootings.

Toronto police shot Sylvia Klibingaitis on Oct. 7, 2011. Suffering from mental illness, she called 911 telling them she had a knife and wanted to kill her mother.

At the inquest, police trainer John Zeyen said that in a similar hypothetical situation, Tasers wouldn’t have changed how police responded.

“Theoretically, in a lot of cases, when a knife is being used to threaten or assault a police officer, generally speaking [a Taser] wouldn’t be appropriate…. Generally speaking it wouldn’t replace a firearm.”

Wasowicz expressed surprise at the answer, commenting that she believes there’s a public perception that Tasers could help avoid tragic results to standoffs involving suspects suffering from mental illness.

“I can’t stress enough, this is a huge, shocking piece of information for me,” she said.

She wondered how many relatives of people suffering with mental illness, would call police believing “there’s a higher probability of survivability” if Tasers were deployed more widely.

Wasowicz suggested there should be more public education on the limitations of the devices.

Given that the province has recently allowed wider use of Tasers, Wasowicz also suggested more resources be put into dealing with mentally ill suspects, rather than Tasers.

The inquest is looking at the shooting deaths of Michael Eligon, Reyal Jardine-Douglas and Klibingaitis. All died after confrontations with police in the past three years. All were suffering from mental health issues and each was holding a sharp object when shot.

Giving evidence for the second day, Zeyen has discussed a number of limitations the devices have in high-risk situations. He also told the inquest the choice to deploy the device is never simple.

“I think the [Taser] is a good tool, we really have to put a lot of effort to it being used reasonably, based on the situation, but it’s also based on what officer is using it and in what situation.”

Police trainer Ron Hoffman, an expert in how police deal with mentally ill and emotionally disturbed individuals, is also giving evidence to the inquest on Thursday.

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