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Transit Taser probe

The Transit Police Service’s use of Tasers will become part of a broader inquiry into police use of the stun guns after the revelation officers patrolling SkyTrain have Tasered fare evaders who tried to flee.

Most of the 10 incidents to date where Transit Police have used Tasers involved suspects described as combative or violent, records released by the force show.

But on two occasions last year, officers Tasered suspects who fled after being checked and found to be riding without a valid ticket. In one of those cases the suspect was also wanted under an outstanding warrant.

In 2008, a third rider with no valid ticket refused to give his name and when officers tried to arrest him he “became uncooperative and grabbed onto the platform railing and refused to let go.” After several warnings he was Tasered and “taken into control.”

In another 2007 case a patron bounced from a restaurant was Tasered because he “refused to obey officers’ commands.”

In all 10 cases since Tasers were acquired last summer, internal reviews found their use was in accordance with the Transit Police Use of Force Policy and national guidelines.

In the wake of the death of Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver Airport, RCMP Taser use has recently been restricted to cases where subjects display “combative behaviour” or are “actively resistant.”

But the Transit Police Service’s broader policy on the electroshock weapons remains unchanged.

It allows officers to use Tasers when “the situation demands control over a non-compliant, suicidal, potentially violent or violent individual” and lower force options were “ineffective in controlling the individual or were inappropriate given all the circumstances.”

An inquiry into Taser use by B.C. police officers, sheriffs and correctional officers to begin in May will now expand to include the transit force, formally known as the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority Police Service.

It’s being led by former B.C. Court of Appeal Justice Thomas Braidwood.

A second inquiry is planned into the death of Dziekanski after an RCMP investigation is complete.

Transit Police reps did not return calls on their officers’ use of Tasers, but issued a statement saying the force has been “provided various tools to assist in the execution of their duties, with the Tasers being one. All tools are used with safety in mind, for the public and the police officers. The province is looking at the use of Tasers and the (Transit Police) Service will be advised of the findings.”

The incidents have prompted renewed calls for a moratorium on Taser use by Transit Police. New Democrat critics said any new Taser guidelines must extend to the transit force as well.

“I question the appropriateness of using Tasers on the transit system where individuals are unarmed, non-violent and may have mental health challenges,” said Vancouver NDP MLA Jenny Kwan, calling for a freeze on their use until all questions are answered.

All of the Transit Police Service’s 22 stun guns are equipped with built-in video cameras, but the force has so far refused to release any video on grounds it has not generally been of useful quality.

Officers are also armed with handguns and pepper spray.

jnagel@surreyleader.com

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