London councillor proposes taser moratorium

Councillor, London Police agree it is a safety issue, disagree on whose safety

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

The national debate on tasers has found its way to London, as one city councillor is advocating a moratorium on their use.

“I didn’t want it on my conscience that I hadn’t spoken out about the risk that tasers pose to human life,” Ward 11 councillor David Winninger said. “I thought in my position of council I would bring forward a motion to urge the Police Services Board to put a moratorium on taser use.”

Winninger first brought a motion to London city council two weeks ago, but did not get the two-thirds majority to allow for debate on the issue. At last night’s council meeting, Winninger needed only a simple majority for discussion to proceed.

“I’m hoping for some show of support from council,” Winninger said before the meeting; “but either way I’ll still be going to the Police Services Board on [Dec. 18].”

London’s City Council does not have the power to change Police Services Board policy, and so even if the motion passes, the London Police Service may still use the devices.

“[Tasers] are a safe and effective way of controlling and arresting an individual where other more forceful devices could have been used,” Constable Amy Philippo, media representative of LPS, said.

Philippo illustrated an example of a taser’s usefulness: “If someone is suffering from cocaine-induced delirium it’s hard to subdue them. [A taser] presents a window of opportunity to take control.

“It’s more safe for the person and more safe for the officer.”

But others, such as City of London Controller Gina Barber, question the safety of the device.

“I think police have been led to believe that this is a safe means of subduing persons who are problematic,” Barber said.

“It’s basically a safety issue " we’ve seen about 20 deaths since 2003. Whether or not they were directly caused by the taser or tasers were indirectly involved, we do know that deaths occurred shortly after,” Barber added.

“If there was any other product associated with that many deaths we would immediately have a recall, a moratorium, or a suspension of activity.”

Taser International, the company producing the devices, claims numerous independent research studies support its claims the devices are safe, but Winninger remains skeptical.

“It’s not necessarily independent research. They pay for this research, they pay people to come to their conferences and they know those who are on their side.

“Big tobacco has a big lobby, too,” he said.

As for LPS’ support of a moratorium on the device, Winninger said: “The police functioned in recent decades without a taser, didn’t they?”

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