Opinions
Jen Grond

Attack of the elderly

RCMP use taser on an 82-year-old man in Kamloops, B.C.

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In the face of danger, it is comforting to imagine our crime fighters as fearless and invincible. However, such ideas place our minds in a state of false security as law enforcers fail to be the heroes we expect them to be.

In May 2008, 82-year-old Frank Lasser was tasered while in the Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops, B.C. Lasser, a former bypass surgery patient, was in the hospital for pneumonia when, early one morning, a nurse noticed that he had a knife. Hospital security and three RCMP responded to her call and after several unsuccessful attempts to subdue Lasser, a stun gun was finally used to control the situation out of fear for a fellow officer's safety.

"Tasers should only be used[...]when suspects are combative or pose a risk of death or grievous bodily harm," according to Paul Kennedy, chair of the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP -- which fit the description of Lasser's apparent threat. However, Lasser, an ex-prison guard, is confident that he could easily have been tamed another way. Furthermore, he claims to have heard an RCMP officer say, "Okay, get him because we got more important work to do on the street tonight," before feeling three shocking jolts.

Lasser's delusional state is thought to have been brought on by his inability to breathe properly, due to receiving an insufficient supply of oxygen, and the medication he was on. The justification for such an incident seems extremely irrational. Although Corporal Scott Wilson explains, "Whether the person is 80 or 20, we are dealing with a person who had a deadly weapon in their hand," a sick and frail 82-year-old man cannot possibly be that threatening. The circumstances must be considered. As a man closing in on the last years of his life, sick with pneumonia and unable to breathe or think properly, failing to comply with setting the knife down should have been expected. Besides, the utensils patients are offered are plastic or regular metal. The "deadly threat" Wilson speaks of was, according to the National Post, an eight-centimetre-long knife -- not quite the crisis situation one might imagine. With several trained crime fighters present, the knife should have easily been removed from Lasser with minimal force.

Since 1999, when police forces began using tasers, their deployment has fluctuated between an average of 50-60 times per year. At least 20 people have died after being stunned in Canada. Kennedy explains that "Tasers should only be used in touch-stun or firing mode." Stunning deaths are often the result of the amount of times one is tasered and how long the stun is held. Since the incident with Lasser, the RCMP has scanned and altered its guidelines on the use of tasers, promoting increased resistance by all members. In Lasser's case, the use of a taser reflects poorly on the RCMP and their ability to resolve a violent situation. Whether the taser was used as a quick and easy way to subdue Lasser or whether it was truly needed is a matter of opinion. If it was absolutely necessary, either Lasser is an extremely dangerous 82-year-old man or the RCMP seriously need some additional training before they attempt to take on anyone even remotely close to middle age.

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