Ottawa police aiming to equip all officers with stun guns

Ottawa police plan to have a stun gun in the hands of every officer, claiming wider access to the weapons will improve safety for both police and the public.

Force hopes to have Tasers in hands of all front-line officers by end of 2018

Ottawa police say stun guns have proven to be very effective in preventing and reducing injuries by allowing officers to gain immediate control over suspects. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette/Canadian Press)

Ottawa police plan to have a stun gun in the hands of every officer, claiming wider access to the weapons will improve safety for both police and the public.

The recommendation comes in a report that will be presented to the Ottawa Police Services Board Monday.

The situations where they are needed are so dynamic that a few seconds, let along five or seven minutes can be significant and have grave consequences.- Ottawa police Supt. Mark Ford

Supt. Mark Ford said arming police with conducted electronic weapons (CEWs), commonly known as Tasers, will help front-line officers prevent situations from escalating to the point where they might have to rely on other, potentially deadlier weapons.

"The more officers have access to this, the greater chance we're going to be able to avoid where this escalates into other use of force options, such as a firearm," Ford said.

The report stems from an evaluation conducted by Ottawa police in 2016, capping off a two-year plan to issue 100 new stun guns to patrol officers while improving training and accountability measures.

Based on the results of that evaluation, Ottawa police are now developing a phased plan that would eventually see all front-line officers equipped with a stun gun.

At the time of the evaluation, Ottawa police had a total of 297 CEWs in service. All 30 members of the force's tactical team were equipped with the weapon, as were 267 patrol officers — just over half of the patrol team.

Officers used the weapons 16 times in 2012 and 20 times in 2013, according to the report.

Use of CEWs increased by 84 per cent in 2015 after officers received greater access to the weapon. Ford said Ottawa police see about 60 to 70 uses per year of the weapon now, but pointed out that in the context of the 320,000 calls for service police receive each year, their use is still minimal.

That spike was accompanied by a decrease in the use of other types of force, including a 39 per cent drop in the number of times officers discharged their firearms and a 29 per cent drop in the number of times officers drew their guns.

Officers who responded to the evaluation survey said stun guns were very effective in preventing and reducing injuries, avoiding the use of other types of force, and helping officers gain immediate control over suspects.

There have been "very few injuries or complaints" related to the deployment of stun guns, according to the report, and nearly all of the officers who responded to the survey supported greater access to the weapons.

Potentially deadly delays

Ford said the hope is to be able to put stun guns in the hands of all front-line officers later this year, if the board agrees and if a planned community consultation goes well. Police estimate it will cost $600,000 this year, with an undetermined amount of spending in 2019.

Ford said equipping all officers with CEWs will eliminate the delay that sometimes occurs while police wait for a CEW to arrive at the scene of an incident.

In 2013 the province gave police the green light to expand the use of stun guns after the death of teenager Sammy Yatim, who was shot by Toronto police responding to an incident aboard a streetcar.

"The situations where they are needed are so dynamic that a few seconds, let along five or seven minutes can be significant and have grave consequences," Ford said.

De-escalation training

Provincial rules require each officers equipped with a stun gun to receive 12 hours of training, including classroom study and scenario-based exercises.

Ottawa police added four supplemental training hours in November 2013, designed to expose officers to multiple situations requiring judgment on appropriate use of force.

"Communication and de-escalation are emphasized as the most important and effective tools available to officers," according to the report.

Stun guns can only be used to gain control of a subject who is threatening assault as defined by the Criminal Code, including situations where they present an imminent threat of serious bodily harm or death.

Ottawa police officers used either minimal or no force in 99 per cent of its 322,588 service calls, according to the force's 2016 annual report.