Overzealous police taser use good example of adult bullying

A few weeks ago I wrote a column about the death of Robert Dziekanski after he was tasered by police while being held at the Vancouver International Airport.

Since that article, there have been two local incidents involving taser use that are worthy of reflection.

First, in November a 68-year-old man was tasered while sitting in his vehicle having a verbal confrontation with an RCMP officer about a double parking ticket. During the exchange, John Peters was hit twice with a taser and he later filed a complaint with the RCMP about it.

In this instance, no one is arguing whether or not Mr. Peters was in fact committing an offence. He was parked inappropriately and admits to driving away while police tried to ticket him. He subsequently pulled over and had a verbal argument with the officer who eventually used his taser.

Since the incident and in response to a formal complaint filed by Mr. Peters, the police have apologized for this particular taser use – saying the taser was inappropriately used because Mr. Peters was in his car. If he had been out of his car, they it would have been according to guidelines.

To me, this response by the RCMP has missed the main point that a double parking infraction should never be grounds for using the taser. I don’t really think it matters whether Mr. Peters was in or out of his vehicle – in my opinion this situation should never have escalated to the use of a taser.

Police need to do a better job of choosing their battles. In this case it seems the officer could have taken down Mr. Peters’ license plate number and sent a warning or ticket in the mail or he could simply have walked away. What happened here was an example of one person trying to establish dominance over another for what appears to be no good purpose.

According to research, individuals in situations of power tend to have some identifiable characteristics. Those in power tend to be: more oblivious to the thoughts of others; more likely to pursue the satisfaction of their own appetites; poorer judges of other people’s reactions; more likely to hold stereotypes; overly optimistic and more likely to take risks.

Many of the internal regulators holding most of us back from bold or bad behaviour diminish or disappear in those who have power. When we feel powerful we stop trying to control ourselves.

How is this different from bullying - which is often described as a form of harassment perpetrated by an individual who has more physical or social power than the victim?

If we ever hope to stop bullying among our children, we adults –and especially those in positions of authority - are going to have to set a better example.

The second incident occurred over the holidays in Vernon. In this case the police were trying to apprehend a psychiatric patient on a warrant issued under the Mental Health Act. I have no inside information about this case, but according to news reports there was concern the individual was suicidal and thus the warrant to bring him in for examination.

Twenty-three-year-old Chris Klim was alone in his apartment and did not answer when police arrived to arrest him. Officers forced the door open and found him wielding a knife. A taser was fired to subdue him and he was subsequently shot twice and killed.

It doesn’t do much good to prevent a suicide by killing the person. In this case, there were seven police officers and no other civilians in immediate danger. Wouldn’t it have been better for police to back off rather than to escalate the situation using such force?

Without the use of weapons, it seems the worst case scenario would have been for Mr. Klim to kill himself – but much more likely with a little listening on the part of police and a more gradual, patient approach, Mr. Klim could have been persuaded to put his knife down and go with the officers.

Since this kind of request for assistance from the police in bringing suicidal or psychotic people in for examination is not rare, police need better training in dealing with agitated individuals. They need to have a better idea of who they are dealing with and what the issues are as well as better training in how to accomplish their goal in non-violent ways.


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