The man who wrote the book on how to get past the Robert Dziekanski horror story showed
up at the legislature Tuesday to comment on how government is executing his plan.
Former justice Thomas Braidwood laid the groundwork for the Independent Investigations Office, the new civilian-led outfit that investigates serious police incidents. He also recommended the new standards for using Tasers, the weapon that was at the heart of the incident where Dziekanski died at the hands of four RCMP members.
Braidwood testified at the special committee overseeing the implementation of his recommendations related to conducted-energy weapons.
On the 87 per cent decrease in the use of Tasers over the last four years, Braidwood had a simple explanation: "They were being used far too frequently."
He said when their effectiveness is balanced against their potential harm, the overuse is evident. That's why he recommended a significantly higher threshold before they can be deployed.
His inquiry fought a "huge culture" that maintained the belief the weapons are safe, he said. Part of the battle included post-inquiry lawsuits by the U.S. makers of Tasers against him, which he won.
During his lengthy hearings into the Dziekanski case, the video of the "shameful" RCMP takedown of the distraught man was played countless times.
"I had to sit and watch that poor man die, day after day," Braidwood recalled. Dziekanski stood with his hands by his side and just looked at the four officers as they approached him.
"The first officer did a nice thing. He sort of said, 'Hey.' But just think what would have happened if the first one had pulled up one of those chairs and sat down. He'd have been alive today. So that's what this is all about."
Braidwood eventually came down on the side of imposing more restrictions on their use, rather than eliminating them.
He told MLAs: "I am satisfied that on balance our society is better off with these weapons than without them."
The new standards have numerous cautions police officers have to consider before pulling the trigger. The RCMP standards require the imminent threat of bodily harm and no hope of de-escalation. The weapon can be used for a maximum of five seconds, not near water, not against anyone operating a vehicle or in danger of falling or drowning, to name a few.
The dramatic reduction in use raises other questions, Braidwood said.
Are service revolvers being used more? He understood the answer is no. Are police being injured more?
Are they using de-escalation techniques more often?
He said more research in those areas would be worthwhile.
Some of that research is being led by a Victoria emergency physician, Dr. Christine Hall. She's been researching police use of force for years and testified earlier about a monumental, long-range study that's underway. Police use force in a minuscule percentage of their dealings with the public.
In that group where force was used, 87 per cent involved alcohol or drug impairment, emotional disturbance or a combination thereof.
Nine per cent of all the force cases involved people where emotional disturbance was the sole factor. Hall said that share is constant in all variations of the study.
That's the category Dziekanski fit into. He was not impaired, but the criminal justice branch decision not to charge the four officers after his death included the view of some pathologists that he was in a state of excited delirium. They concluded that the multiple Taser shots didn't kill him, but that his mental state may have contributed to his death.
Excited delirium is a controversial label, because it's been used to shift cause of death away from Tasers. Hall said it's not an officially recognized diagnosis, but the argument is irrelevant. It's a clear description of what police officers see dealing with a superhuman-strong, agitated, sweating, incoherent, resistant-to-pain, restrained person.
The point is: People who reach that point often die during police involvement, one way or the other.
Five years after Dziekanski's death, B.C. is still grappling with how to stop it from happening again.
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