Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau wants more front-line police officers to carry stun guns, and has plans to equip 300 additional officers with the conducted energy weapons.
About the video
In the video above, taken from a camera on a police stun gun, Ottawa police officers face a man holding a 12-inch blade who has been threatening suicide. Police negotiated with the barricaded man for more than hour before SWAT officers storm into his apartment. Police fire the stun gun from about three metres away. The electrical probes hit him in the stomach and he screams in pain, dropping the knife.
Staff Sgt. Jeff Kilcollins of the Ottawa Police tactical unit calls the video a textbook example and how and when the weapons should be used. Kilcollins acknowledges tactical police could have overpowered the man without the stun gun, but said doing so would have put lives at risk.
Right now 149 Ottawa police officers carry stun guns, and these are members of the police tactical unit or supervisors with more than 10 years experience on the job.
Bordeleau said he doesn’t believe additional screening is needed to carry a stun gun.
“We issue a baton. We issue pepper spray, we issue a firearm which is deadly force so I’m confident with the right training with guidelines and policies in place that our officers will continue to use the right tool in the right circumstance,” said Bordeleau.
Rules loosen on who can carry stun gun
Ottawa Police have had stun guns since 2000 and have used them an average of 18 times a year.
But following the fatal shooting of a Toronto teenager, the Ontario Government loosened it’s rules on conducted energy weapons, allowing all police officers to use the stun guns.
That's opened the door for Bordeleau's plan to triple the number of officers who can carry the weapon.
Bordeleau said stun guns are the most effective and efficient tool police have - short of lethal force - to bring a violent person under control.
“Our officers have to make split second decisions to prevent injuries to individuals and to prevent injuries to themselves or to others in their surroundings. I want them to have the right tools,” said Bordeleau.
Stun gun deaths 'extremely rare'
The use of stun guns can potentially cause fatal respiratory and cardiac complications in some people, but those health effects are "extremely rare," according to a report last month from the Council of Canadian Academies.
The report said there are approximately 9,174 conducted energy weapons or stun guns in use in Canada and that since the late 1990s, at least 33 people have died following their use.
But the report said it needed better evidence to understand the relationship between Tasers and other conductive energy weapons and adverse health effects.
Ottawa Police is currently facing a $1.2 million lawsuit from a man alleging police brutality, after he was hit with a stun gun in the cell block.
Bordeleau said to his knowledge no individuals who have been hit with stun guns by members of his force have suffered serious injuries, but said officers have been hurt dealing with people who refuse to stand down.
A note about the above chart: In 2007 stun gun use was expanded beyond the tactical unit to experienced frontline police officers.
Criminologist calls plan 'a setback'
Carleton University criminologist Darryl Davies worries a blanket approach to handing out the weapon will encourage officers to stun their suspects instead of talking them down.
“The more toys we give them, the less communication skills they have, the less effective they are at dealing with these situations through interpersonal skills. This is a setback,” said Davies.
He argues only experienced officers with a proven record of sound judgment should have access to the tool. Davies also thinks any officer found guilty of excessive use of force under the Police Services Act should not be allowed to carry a stun gun.
Davies said with more conductive energy weapons on the street it’s a given they will be used more often and the likelihood of abuse of force will increase.
In nearly half the cases, the stun gun was used on a person with a mental illness.
About 1 in 20 calls to Ottawa Police now involve some type of mental illness. Davies said those statistics show police should equip officers with more deescalation techniques that don’t require force, such as mediation and other dispute resolution strategies.
Bordeleau said he would consult with mental health groups and hospitals before he drafts his final proposal for expanded stun gun use.
Funds for weapons must come from existing budget
Beyond convincing the public that police need the stun guns, Bordeleau also needs to find a way to pay for the expensive tools. Each conductive energy weapon costs approximately $2,000.
Mayor Jim Watson has already said that the city will not pay for additional stun guns, but Bordeleau plans to use the bulk of the his $500,000 police equipment budget to buy the weapons.
While that may not give him enough money to issue each front-line officer their own gun, he hopes to have enough to buy a pool of the weapons for constables to share.
The plan will be presented to the Ottawa Police Services Board in January.