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Tasers a safety 'game-changer' for cops and citizens, use on the rise

Hamilton Police use of Tasers was up significantly last year – due in large part to 2015 being the first year that all frontline officers took Tasers out with them to their calls.

Tasers: 'This has been the game-changer for the citizens and the officers in just keeping everybody safe'

Hamilton police armourer Sgt. Darren Murphy presented the service's use-of-force stats from 2015 at a meeting on Thursday. (Adam Carter/CBC)

Hamilton Police use of Tasers was up significantly last year – due in large part to 2015 being the first year that all frontline officers took Tasers out with them to their calls.

In 2015, there were 145 reported incidents with Conductive Energy Weapon or CEWs (commonly referred to by the brand name Taser), including times that officers "displayed" them.

That was up from 64 incidents in 2014.

"Basically everybody who shows up for work at Hamilton Police Service has the option to take out a CEW with them," said Sgt. Darren Murphy in a presentation to the police services board at Thursday's meeting.

When an officer "displays" the CEW, the province doesn't require submitting a use-of-force report, but Hamilton still collects that information, Murphy said.

30 guns discharged; 29 times to euthanize animals

Police fill out a use-of-force report in cases like whenever they draw a handgun in the presence of a member of the public, or when they are involved in a physical altercation after which someone needs medical attention, Murphy said.

There were 281 use-of-force incidents of all types in 2015, including the 73 times that officers simply displayed their Tasers.

Of the 30 times officers discharged a gun, 29 times were to "euthanize" animals.

So Murphy emphasized that 179 incidents is the best number to describe how often officers engaged members of the public using force.

Handguns drawn more often than 2014

The number of times officers pointed firearms increased in 2015. There were 145 times that happened, compared to 100 the year before.

Times that officers drew their handguns also increased to 59 in 2015. That's a big jump from 2014 when handguns were drawn 29 times.

"This does go through peaks and valleys," Murphy said.

He said some reasons for the jump include: more times that officers had to do "dynamic entries" in 2015, and more incidents where people used weapons against police.

Was buying Tasers the right call? 

Coun. Lloyd Ferguson, who chairs the police services board, asked Murphy whether the Taser acquisition was the right thing to do.

"For this service, absolutely," he said. "In my professional opinion, it has no doubt saved lives. It's given us more options in situations where we're faced with a lethal confrontation.

"In the past, if we had somebody that was armed with an edged weapon, which we obviously do, we would likely have two firearms pointed at that individual.

"This has been the game-changer for the citizens and the officers in just keeping everybody safe."

kelly.bennett@cbc.ca | @kellyrbennett

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