Nelson city council had a chance to question Nelson Police Department about its recent decision to re-certify all officers to carry Tasers.
Police went without Tasers for five years while a provincial inquiry considered the safety of their use. Then this past April they brought them back because the inquiry had determined they were safe to use, albeit with added precautions.
“The Taser is not lethal force, it’s high-intermediate [use of force],” Nelson Police Department chief Wayne Holland told council. “There have to be significant actions undertaken before it can be deployed — officers must make every effort to talk, to de-escalate, to reason [with an individual] and must have witnessed them affect bodily harm on another person or themselves or believe that they’re about to.”
Holland said there is less risk of injury for a person hit with a Taser than if officers use their fist or baton to restrain them. Additionally, Tasers are rarely used in Nelson and hadn’t been used at all in the months they’d been on the street prior to the chief making his presentation (however, on June 16 a Taser was used to restrain a combative man).
Inspector Paul Burkart told council that in his 18 years as a police officer he’s arrested thousands of people and only deployed his Taser, “less than a handful of times.”
Holland added that every time an officer uses his or her Taser, or even takes it out of its holster, a report must be filed with the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner and the Independent Investigations Office of BC and the local police board hears about it.
Councillor Robin Cherbo wondered if Tasers could be used against vicious dogs.
Holland had checked with the Justice Institute of BC on that issue and confirmed that Tasers are known to be an effective — though not a recommended — way to restrain an animal.
“As a last resort, they do work [against dogs],” Holland said.
About 40 people were in the public gallery when the police officers made their presentation, though some were there for other issues on the agenda.
Councillor Deb Kozak, who requested the police attend the meeting after a resident expressed concern about the use of Tasers, suggested the officers make quarterly reports to council with updates on new initiatives. Holland said he’d be glad to.
Minutes from monthly police board meetings are also provided to council and the meetings themselves are open for anyone to attend. The police recently updated their website and made past board minutes publicly available.