British Columbia

Expert questions use of Tasers on Vancouver transit cheats

Using Tasers to stun non-violent transit fare evaders does not comply with normal police protocol on the use of the electronic stun guns, according to an expert in police crisis intervention techniques.

Using Tasers to stun non-violent transit fare evaders does not comply with normal police protocol on the use of the electronic stun guns, according to an expert in police crisis intervention techniques.

Mike Webster, a Vancouver-based psychologist who works as a consultant on crisis negotiation with various Canadian and U.S. law enforcement agencies in Canada and the U.S., said he was shocked to learn Metro Vancouver transit police had used Tasers on at least two non-violent fare evaders.

"It is an entirely inappropriate application to apply [a Taser] to someone who has not paid a transit fare," Webster said on Wednesday morning.

On Tuesday, the CBC revealed Metro Vancouver transit police had used their Tasers 10 times since January 2007, and three cases involved non-violent suspects. The information was contained in internal police reports obtained using access to information requests.

In one incident, a non-paying passenger was jolted after he held onto a railing on the SkyTrain platform and refused to let go.

On another occasion, the Taser was used when a passenger fled from transit police after not paying his fare.

Webster believes the inappropriate use of Tasers is a training issue and that their use by police has crept into areas where it is not appropriate.

According to the transit police policy, a Taser may be used when "the situation demands control over a non-compliant, suicidal, potentially violent, or violent individual and lower force options were ineffective."

"There is a huge gap between someone who presents a threat to life and grievous bodily harm and someone who is simply belligerent, oppositional, combative, threatening," said Webster.

Webster is not the only person to question the use of Tasers by transit police.

Aiyanas Ormond, an organizer with the Bus Riders Union, said it is inappropriate to have armed police using such heavy-handed methods to enforce transit fares.

"Why do we have an armed police force using violence to enforce what is a user fee for a public service?" said Ormond on Wednesday morning.

"Nobody deserves to be beat up or threatened or Tasered because they can't afford a $2.75 bus fare," said Ormond.

"People now avoiding fares really have no choice. People know that they are going to be threatened with a $175 ticket or potentially this kind of violence if they don't pay their fares, so it really an act of desperation," said Ormond.

Nobody from TransLink or the transit police force was available for an interview when contacted by the CBC on Wednesday morning.

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