Transit police fired Tasers six times

TransLink's Transit Police officers have used Tasers to control suspects six times since the electrical weapons were deployed in late July.

And the force's spokesman says the conductive energy weapons continue to be an option for armed officers patrolling SkyTrain and buses despite controversy over their use after the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski.

"Our officers do carry them, they continue to carry them – nothing has changed," said Insp. Dan Dureau of the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority Police Service.

He said any policy change on Taser use will be determined by the provincial government's Police Services branch, adding the force is not bound by recommendations recently issued by the RCMP Public Complaints Commission.

Although transit officers haven't discharged any of their 20 Tasers in recent weeks, Dureau said there's hasn't been any chill on their use following Dziekanski's videotaped death at Vancouver International Airport (YVR) and the multiple investigations it spawned.

Tasers can be valuable even when they're never fired, he said.

"I see it as a very big deterrent tool even when we don't use it," Dureau said, adding many suspects surrender quickly when they see the weapon.

He said there have been no public complaints regarding the force's use of Tasers.

The model of Taser carried by Transit Police – the newest X-26 – is outfitted with a US $400 add-on video camera that records every time the weapon is turned on.

"We're the only ones using them because they've just come out," he said.

Dureau had hoped recorded videos would back up any officers accused of improperly using Tasers.

But he says the Taser Cam's lens is located near the base of the grip and its view is often obscured by officers' hands.

"For most officers, when you grip the handle you cover it up," he said, calling it an apparent design flaw.

"It just doesn't offer much of a view of anything," Dureau said. "So it hasn't been as big a success or benefit as we thought it might be."

Even the audio is of little use, he said, because the Taser typically isn't turned on until an officer is nearly ready to fire.

"It's not like you get 15 minutes of lead-up, because the Taser's not on," he said. "You really don't catch much of the preliminaries."

But Taser International vice-president Steve Tuttle says Metro Vancouver transit police aren't using the equipment correctly if they're not capturing usable video.

He said officers who hold the Taser with a two-handed grip can obscure the lens and need to take care that doesn't happen or else use one hand.

"That's a training issue," he said, adding other forces worldwide are getting "great" video with the Taser Cam.

Tuttle said officers should know if the Taser's lens is obscured.

"The system is designed to warn you," he said. "If you cover up the lens, the back central information display starts to blink and the laser sight begins to blink. It gives the user instant feedback that the lens is covered."

The Taser Cam has been available for nearly a year. It's a rechargeable battery that fits into the Taser grip, with the video lens mounted at the bottom front of the grip.

It can record up to 90 minutes and capture video in total darkness due to an infrared illuminator.

Tuttle also advises officers turn on Tasers early to capture audio as well, adding that can prove officers gave clear commands and warnings to a suspect well ahead of Taser use.

Taser International pitches the cameras as ensuring accountability.

"The truth is undeniable," its website says. "A picture is worth a thousand words."

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