Police to ask for Tasers for all frontline officers

In its meeting on Monday, the police services board is set to debate a proposal to ask the city for $1 million in funding to provide Tasers for all front-line officers.

Initial cost of program pegged at $1 million

Hamilton police are proposing to give all front line officers Taser-type weapons

Hamilton's police services board is set to ask council for $1 million in funding to provide Tasers to all front-line officers.

At its meeting on Monday, the board will vote on a recommendation to ask council for money for "training, equipment and implementation" for what are formally known as "conductive energy weapons."

The police peg the initial cost of the program at just less than $1 million — approximately $325,000 for equipment (including 150 Tasers), $226,000 to hire two training officers, and $430,000 to conduct training. 

According to a report submitted to the city, police plan to start re-certification courses for officers who have already received Taser training as soon as this month. If council adopts the recommendation, training for new users would begin in January and conclude in June. 

The board will also ask council to undertake a survey the public about the weapons, the report says.

Controversy over police use of force

There has been a recent push for police in Ontario to expand Taser use after a couple of high-profile police shootings this summer sparked outrage across the province.

On June 7, former Hamilton steelworker Steve Mesic, 45, was shot and killed during a confrontation with police in the bushes behind his home, located on Upper Wentworth Street at the Lincoln Alexander Parkway.

And on July 27, 18-year-old Sammy Yatim was shot by police multiple times while standing on an empty streetcar in downtown Toronto. A 30-year-old constable, James Forcillo, faces a second-degree murder charge in the incident. 

New provincial rules allow all front-line officers to carry Tasers, though some Hamilton councillors have expressed doubt that the police budget can sustain the expansion of their use. Currently, only a select few supervisory officers and tactical officers are authorized to use the weapons.

In a report submitted to the city, police brass say Tasers were deployed in 49 separate incidents in 2012, up from 22 in 2011. In 35 of last year's cases, the Tasers remained in “display mode,” the report says. 

Police policy stipulates that, like guns, Tasers should only be deployed in case a suspect "assaultive and/or serious body harm or death behaviours to themselves or another person." 

Hamilton police could not be reached for comment.

Questions about cost

In an email to the CBC, Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla wrote that he is "supportive of all mitigating efforts to decrease the use of deadly force through proactive measures." Be he said "if the increase in Tasers correlates to the increase in the police budget due to provincial direction, then the province must attach the necessary funding."

"We are presently paying 20 per cent of our operating budget toward provincially mandated programs, which is unsustainable and regressive," he added.

It's not clear why the police are pushing for a public survey on the use of Tasers while, at the same time, appearing to have made the decision to go ahead with purchasing the weapons. When asked about that, Merulla simply said, "good question."

Some critics have expressed concern over the government's decision to authorize expanded Taser deployment.

In a statement last month, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said it "urges police forces instead to invest in de-escalation training, and mental health and disability crisis response teams, rather than additional weaponry."


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