Up to 400 more frontline officers in Toronto to receive tasers
Members of the Toronto Police Services Board approved the motion Thursday
Members of Toronto's Police Services Board passed a motion Thursday to issue up to 400 more conducted energy weapons (CEWs), or tasers, to certain on-duty constables.
The Toronto Police Service (TPS), and Chief Mark Saunders, suggested the increase to achieve their goal of zero deaths when it comes to interactions between the public and police.
"I think it will help enhance officer safety, it will help enhance community safety and I think it was a great day for us," Saunders said following the meeting.
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Mayor John Tory also voted in favour of the move.
"What we were anxious to do was add one more means by which if de-escalation is not successful, that situations can be resolved without the kind of dire consequences that come from the use of firearms," he said.
The devices will cost the service about $950,000.
Not all in favour
Antonella Scali, a policy analyst with the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario, spoke out against more tasers at the meeting.
"Our concern is, of course, the fact that if CEWs are available to more frontline officers, there is a risk that they will be overused, and not just overused, but overused ... for people who might be experiencing crisis and might be harder to communicate with," she said.
Scali also worries the people she works with, who are at higher risk for cardiovascular health issues and substance-use disorders, might have more severe reactions to the use of CEWs.
"So we have concerns that we could be using other tools that are available or that we should be considering other options," she said.
One option, she said, would be expanding the TPS mobile crisis intervention program, which partners a mental-health nurse with a specially-trained officer.
Part of the approved motion also requires the TPS to conduct a review of other use-of-force options and gather input from the public and affected groups.
"We're glad to see that they're considering analysis and reporting that will help them kind of see ... who is this actually going to be impacting," Scali said.
The board also held public consultations on taser use in October and faced criticisms for favouring tasers over other de-escalation tactics.
Taser use in Toronto
The TPS brought in CEWs in 2002, but only issued them to certain officers. They're meant to immobilize a threat.
The move to increase the number of CEWs available stems from a need for more, less-lethal tools to protect both the public and officers, according to the report Chief Saunders presented to the board.
Before Thursday's meeting, officers could call on one of 545 supervisors who've been issued a CEW if they needed one, but the report noted many of them may not be available because of other calls, distance or if they're off-shift.
In the last decade, the coroner in 11 inquests has recommended full deployment of tasers to all front-line officers.
But the aim, according to Saunders' report and presentations from officers Thursday, is to make de-escalation a priority when dealing with a crisis.
"I understand the public has concerns because a new tool is going to be put into play," Saunders said. "But one of the things to really consider is that all of our training involves judgment training. It's not the weapon; it's the judgment behind using that weapon or that tool that's provided to the officer."
Data presented at the meeting showed that between 2007 and 2017, the TPS used CEWs 3,248 times, and half the time, the device was only presented. The uses resulted in 31 minor injuries, two serious injuries and one death, although the cause of death in that incident has not been determined.
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The decision Thursday means constables permitted to receive a device will go through 16 hours of training exercises and studies.
Constables will be expected to report each use of their device, with Saunders overseeing the data and preparing comprehensive reports.
More tasers, naloxone kits in use soon
Chief Saunders said he hopes to get the tasers to the frontline very shortly.
The board also unanimously approved a motion Thursday that will result in broader deployment of naloxone kits, a first for the Toronto Police Service, as soon as possible.
They'll be deployed in areas where police are most likely to encounter drug overdoses, Tory said.