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An Independent Review of the Adoption and Use of Conducted Energy Weapons by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Principal Consultant
John Kiedrowski, M.A. (Criminology)

Associate Consultants
Michael Petrunik, Ph.D (Sociology)
Ronald-Frans Melchers, Doctorat es Sciences Economiques

June 5, 2008

The views in this report represent those of the authors and may not necessarily reflect the views of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or those interviewed for this review.

Executive Summary

Since 2000, many Canadian police services have incorporated conducted energy weapons (CEWs) as a less lethal form of intervention (along with pepper spray, batons and rubber bullets) into their use of force frameworks, somewhere between the mere physical presence of an officer and the use of deadly force, such as a firearm. In the case of the RCMP, the use of CEWs was formally authorized by Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli, on December 20, 2001. Since then, more than 9,000 members have received CEW user training. Between 2001 and the time of writing of this report CEWs have been used by the RCMP more than 5,000 times.

A CEW application is intended to temporarily incapacitate a person who is deemed to be potentially dangerous to self or others. This can be done at a short distance by delivering an electric shock via the firing of two stainless steel barbs (probe mode) or through direct application of a series of brief electrical pulses to a subject's body (stun mode). Police officers are taught to quickly conduct a risk assessment of a dangerous situation, using a model such as the RCMP's Incident Management/Intervention Model (1M/1M) and to select the least intrusive means of force necessary to bring that situation under control. The use of force by the police, particularly when it has resulted in death, has posed serious issues for public confidence and trust in policing. Accusations have been made that the use of the most lethal forms of force such as police service pistols has often been unnecessary and sometimes even indicative of discrimination against minority groups or of a lack of understanding of the true risk posed by agitated persons, such as persons suffering from serious mental illness or under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The phenomenon of deaths subsequent to police use of deadly force has become a public issue following a number of inquests and inquiries into the circumstances of such deaths. In a number of instances, the conclusion was reached that the deaths of certain individuals not only were tragic but also could have been avoided had appropriate, less lethal modes of intervention been available. CEWs were subsequently adopted by the RCMP and other police services across Canada with the hope that not only the police and the public would be better protected through the deployment of an effective but non-lethal means of force, but also that public confidence in the police, which is vital to the success of police work, would be enhanced because of fewer deaths or serious injuries linked to police intervention.

The introduction of CEWs and reported increases in their use over the last few years have not, however, eliminated the problem of deaths subsequent to police use of force, nor have all questions with regard to appropriate use of force been resolved. A number of high-profile deaths in Canada and elsewhere of persons following a CEW application have led critics such as Amnesty International to charge that the CEW is not as safe as the manufacturers of these devices and police representatives have led the police and public to believe. Furthermore, a perception has emerged that a form of "usage creep" may be occurring, with some police officers going beyond formal protocols for CEW use and resorting to it as a convenient way of restraining subjects who are merely passively, but not actively, resisting restraint, and in no way imminently threatening harm to the police, self, or others.

In Canada, the most controversial case of alleged inappropriate CEW use by police involved the application by RCMP officers of a CEW on October 14,2007, to an acutely agitated Polish immigrant named Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport, captured on video and repeatedly shown on television and the Internet. Dziekanski's subsequent death, along with media excerpts of the videotape and interviews with Dziekanski's distraught mother, led to international public outrage. The Braidwood Inquiry in British Columbia into the circumstances of Dziekanski's death, and several other reviews by federal and provincial agencies, are now reviewing the facts of this case. Given the controversy surrounding CEW use and the resulting concerns arising with regard to public safety and confidence in the RCMP, Commissioner William Elliott ordered an independent review of the policy decisions involved in adoption and deployment of the CEW, the validity and reliability of information used to make these decisions, and the adequacy of the operational procedures, training practices and accountability mechanisms developed to ensure effective and safe use of the CEW by members of the RCMP.

To better understand the policy-development and decision-making processes of the RCMP with respect to use of CEWs, we gathered information not only from RCMP documents and interviews with RCMP officials, but also comparative information from documents and interviews provided by representatives of various police services and police-governance organizations outside of the RCMP. A key finding was that the RCMP's approach to CEWs differed from that of many other Canadian police services, notably because of the RCMP's role in Canadian policing as both an independent federal police service and a police service under contract to provinces and municipalities. In contrast to other police services, which took the precaution of restricting CEW use to supervisors, the RCMP's position was that all of its officers should be trained to deploy a CEW. One apparent rationale for this was the high number of RCMP officers (about 80 percent) in rural or isolated areas, policing alone with limited supervision resources and little or no backup. Having access to a CEW in this context was viewed as enhancing the safety of both officers and persons at risk of harming self or others, by allowing a single officer to safely restrain a resisting, combative or suicidal subject without resorting to use of a more lethal type of weapon such as a service pistol.

A review of the decision-making processes that led to the Commissioner Zaccardelli's authorization of CEW use revealed several problems. To begin, the CEW was, for several years after its adoption by the RCMP, erroneously characterized as a prohibited "weapon" under the Criminal Code, as opposed to a prohibited "firearm." This misunderstanding was subsequently incorporated into the RCMP's operational policies and procedures as well as those of other police services in Canada. While the most recent RCMP operational manual, completed in 2007, correctly refers to the CEW as a prohibited firearm, a number of consequences of this error in classification remain to be dealt with by both the RCMP and other Canadian police services.

In the late 1990s, several police services (notably those of Victoria and Edmonton) which, along with the RCMP were considering the use of CEWs, conducted pilot projects to gather information on the technical, medical, legal, tactical and organizational considerations with regard to the use of CEWs. The projects included a technical assessment of the M26 Taser at an independent research laboratory, tests on volunteer subjects, and a six-month field test. The subsequent report resulting from these projects was the primary basis for the development of the RCMP's policies, operational procedures and training with regard to CEWs.

In hindsight, the assistance of trained research and policy analysts should have been sought, as this report had several major limitations including an incomplete literature review, an over-reliance on information supplied by the manufacturer, too much consideration given to anecdotal information provided by police officers, and limited outside consultation. For example, there was no consultation with national medical and mental-health associations (e.g., Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Psychiatric Association, and Canadian Mental Health Association). With the exception of the Canadian Police Research Centre, neither was there consultation with organizations concerned with research on policing and public policy. Some of the RCMP's divisions

consulted with the governments in their respective policing jurisdictions, but this was not part of an implementation of the policy. The completed RCMP report was then sent to the Clothing, Equipment and Design Committee (CEDe) for its review and recommendation to the Commissioner with regard to possible adoption of the CEW. The information provided to the CEDC was limited in scope, as much of it came from the manufacturer of the CEW or from other police services relying heavily on the manufacturer's information. Furthermore, reliance on Canadian Police Research Centre reports with respect to issues relating to the CEW was in some instances problematic because these reports were not subject to the rigorous standards of a peer-review process. Some important sources of information were overlooked and there were some errors of fact or interpretation. Many of the resulting problems in the RCMP policy-development process might have been avoided had the RCMP used its own internal research and evaluation branch to seek out independent researchers to conduct studies that could detect and take into account any potential police and manufacturer biases.

The problems described above may have negatively influenced not only the RCMP's decision-making process, but also that of many other police organizations and governing authorities across Canada. One is left to wonder if the RCMP would have arrived at the same conclusions about the use the CEW at the time, had these issues been properly addressed. Perhaps there would have been a delay in the implementation of the CEW, or at least an initially more limited deployment (e.g., only to supervisors and tactical squads). Attention was also given to the RCMP operational manual with regard to CEW use. The manual provided the necessary information to provide direction on use, voluntary exposure, reporting, aftercare subsequent to application, reporting, maintenance and control, data downloads, and independent testing. However, questions were raised with regard to the challenge statement used before applying a CEW: "Police, stop or you will be hit with 50,000 volts of electricity!" This statement, which is undoubtedly rhetorically intended to have a maximum deterrent effect, is nonetheless factually incorrect and its use is now under review.

Next, we examined various issues related to accountability including the following: reporting of incidents where a CEW was used; downloading of the data from the CEW; and testing of the CEW. Our review of RCMP documents indicated that some officers were not routinely completing the required reports. Processes are now being put into place to ensure the proper completion of the required documentation. However, the Taser device itself was developed to provide its own information on use as a benchmark with which to match entries in the police officer's log book or complete a use-of-force report. Testing of the accuracy and reliability of CEWs is a major concern. While CEWs were tested as part of a pilot project before their adoption, they have not been systematically tested since that time.

In our examination of the RCMP's development and implementation of its use-of-force model, we found that the RCMP initially had difficulties incorporating their policies and training on CEW use into this model. However, recent proposed changes to ensure that the Incident Management Intervention Model (IM/IM) is based on the National Use of Force Framework are a step in the right direction. Many of the other issues associated with the use of force can readily be addressed by the recently established national use-of-force coordinator. While the RCMP training modules covering CEW use are based on the use-of-force model, several gaps were identified in terms of the delivery and administration of courses. Recently adopted course material does appear, however, to provide the necessary information and practice opportunities to teach the proper skills required for competent CEW use. The report also examined the medical literature to assess the nature of the relationship between the use of a CEW and injuries or death. While the information we reviewed suggested that there is no necessary and sufficient causal link between undergoing a CEW application and subsequent death, there is considerable information indicating that the subjects of a possible CEW application vary considerably in terms of factors that might increase risk of harm.

These factors include size and body weight, existence of various medical conditions, acute psychosis, ingestion of drugs, and prolonged acute stress. It is important that the assessment of such risk factors and their possible significance be clearly covered in both operational manuals and training materials. Similarly, attention was given to the concept of "excited delirium", a term which is used by some emergency-room physicians and coroners in their diagnostic work. Our conclusion is that this concept can be considered to be "folk knowledge" when used by the police and should not be included in the RCMP's operational manual unless subsequently formally approved by the RCMP after consultation with a mental-health-policy advisory body, along the lines we have suggested.

Furthermore, the RCMP's policy-development process, implementation of the CEW and accountability mechanisms were compared to those of other police services. This review revealed that while the RCMP's decision-making process is comparable to that of many other police services, actual operational policies, including those related to CEW deployment, vary substantially across the country. Some sort of national standards would hence be beneficial.

While many issues with regard to CEW use have been raised over the past few years, the Community, Contract and Aboriginal Policing Services (CCAPS) has begun to recognize and address these issues and improve decision-making processes and accountability mechanisms. We view the leadership and professionalism of current CCAPS members in tis regard to be very positive. Finally, our review of the adoption and the implementation of policy with regard to CEW use by the RCMP, along with the reviews of other investigators (Auditor General Fraser, Brown, Kennedy, Braidwood, etc.), raise larger questions with regard to the RCMP's policy-making process, collection of data or information, and approach to governance that are beyond our scope to address.

It is our hope that this independent report, along with the reports of various other investigations now underway, will provide a better understanding of the complex issues involved in the application of intervention modalities such as CEWs, in a manner that will maximize public and police safety on the one hand and public confidence and trust in the police on the other.

A complete version of the report can be obtained via a request to Access to Information .