Is expanding the use of Tasers a positive step in reducing deadly force?

Thomas Bink
Is expanding the use of Tasers a positive step in reducing deadly force?

Thomas Bink: I definitely think it's a step in the right direction. Before the Yatim shooting, I had no idea Toronto cops had to call in for a Taser to be delivered to them – I doubt that's very effective in the heat of a standoff. As long as police don't use Tasers as a first option – I think there's something to be said about talking a perpetrator down before turning to a Taser, a baton or a gun – then it seems to be an effective way of incapacitating someone without much violence.

Matthew Coutts: Absolutely. Step back and consider this: Every officer in Ontario carries a gun – a weapon designed and intended to end a life, when necessary. Yet they need to call in reinforcements to gain access to a weapon designed and intended to subdue and restrain? Come on! Yes, Tasers are dangerous. Yes, there is a legitimate argument that Tasers are more likely to be abused than guns. But that’s a fault on the officer, not the device. Train officers appropriately, and make damn sure they understand Tasers are not a toy.

Andy Radia: Certainly, I think Tasers are more preferable than guns. But let's hold off on arming every Officer Tom, Dick and Harry with these weapons that can be deadly. Amnesty International estimates that 500 people in the U.S. have been killed by Tasers since 2001. That's not an insignificant number. First of all, if we must use Tasers, let's limit their use to senior officers. I think recent history has proven (for example, in the Dziekanski case in Vancouver) that there's a culture of 'macho-ness' in our police departments – at least an element of it. So let's not be haphazard about this and let's be a little more creative and come up with alternative solutions to these potentially deadly weapons. Why aren't we talking about crisis-intervention teams within police departments that are trained to deal with people under the influence of alcohol or drugs or who have a mental illness? Why aren't we talking about things like batons and more police dogs?

Bink: Like I said, a Taser should be considered as a second-to-last resort, after other non-weapon avenues have been exhausted. As for your number of Taser deaths – yes, there have been some incidents, including Dziekanski. That just shows that officers need to be properly trained on the use of Tasers, and Tasers aren't the appropriate tool for every situation. In the same amount of time, there have been over 100,000 successful Taser take-downs, so I prefer those numbers over the odds of a successful takedown using a gun or even a baton.

Radia: To be frank, Tom, I just don't trust our police departments – in their current state – to administer a comprehensive Taser training program and then to distribute these deadly weapons to all their officers. 500 is a significant number – if you don't believe me ask the families who lost love ones because of these Tasers. Let's invest in other technologies. I think we're really missing the boat on investing in crisis intervention teams that could have – undeniably – prevented deaths in the Yatim and Dziekanski cases.

Coutts: That’s a fair point, Andy. There are still many unanswered questions. In the Yatim case, it appears the teen was shot multiple times and had collapsed to the ground before being shot with a Taser. So there is reason for doubt there about how officers think they should use the device. Crisis intervention and peaceful resolution should be Plan A. Deploying a firearm should be the last resort, leaving lots of room for Tasers. If things get hectic, an officer shouldn’t have to decide between gun or fighting in close quarters. Give Tasers the same oversight, and treat officers who misuse the device as harshly as those who misuse their guns.

Bink: One way or another, there have to be alternatives over pulling out a gun. If Tasers are an option, let's give them a try and monitor the results.

So, what do you think? Have your say in the comments area below.