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May 13, 2008 -- Canadian Press (CAN)

Psychologist: Taser Int'l Has 'Brainwashed' Officers

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VANCOUVER -- A psychologist who has worked with police forces around the world on crisis management says he's embarrassed to be associated with police who uses Tasers on "sick old men" and "confused immigrants."

"Some of these incidents we see in the media of people being Tasered are, frankly, embarrassing," Mike Webster said Tuesday at a B.C. public inquiry into the use of Tasers by police.

"This is not the best of Canadian policing. This is not how we as Canadians would want our police services to behave."

Webster, a psychological consultant, said he's worked with police for more than 30 years and "I'm embarrassed to be associated with organizations that Taser sick old men in hospital beds and confused immigrants who are arriving in the country."

The first reference is to a recent incident where an elderly man lying in his hospital bed in Kamloops was hit with the stun gun after he became delirious and pulled a pen knife from his pocket.

The second reference is to Robert Dziekanski, who died last October at Vancouver airport.

The Polish immigrant, agitated after spending many hours lost in the airport customs area, had tossed some airport computers. Four RCMP officers responded to a call and jolted Dziekanski twice with a Taser.

He was dead within minutes.

Webster also tore a strip off Taser International, the weapon maker, for what he suggested was the "brainwashing" of police organizations.

The company has conducted a "brilliant marketing scheme and created a lucrative business" based on selling Tasers as a necessary tool when confronted with a disorder known as "excited delirium."

But "excited delirium" as a medical condition is not recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, he said. That same opinion was voiced earlier in the day by Dr. Lu Shaohua, a psychiatrist and expert in delirium.

Webster also made it clear he was not "anti-police" and conceded there was a use for Tasers.

"There is a place for Tasers and that is the last thing before you have to shoot somebody," he testified.

Commission counsel Patrick McGowan asked Webster to elaborate on how he was "critical of police forces taking their information directly from the manufacturer."

"I would like us as a country to take a look at conducted energy weapons, their safety, where and when applied," said Webster, who lives on Vancouver Island.

"I don't think we should swallow this whole hog from south of the border."

Outside the hearing room, Webster criticized the manufacturer for applying the notion of "excited delirium" and passing it on to police services "as if it's an actual existing disorder."

He also told reporters outside that he was "shocked" when he saw the Dziekanski video, along with millions of others.

"There was such a brief lapse of time between the (RCMP) members entering the area and their deployment of the Taser," he said.

The police in that situation, he said, were not trained and should have had some crisis intervention skills.

Dziekanski couldn't understand English but Webster said police with proper training have non-verbal techniques they can use to calm people down.

In his presentation, he told inquiry commissioner Thomas Braidwood that a confrontation on the street should prompt a police officer to consider the creation of a "safe, non-threatening environment.

"The individual will regain their mental balance and make decent decisions," Webster said.

He said it is crucial that the agitated person perceive that there is no more crisis.

"You can't expect a person who is hyper-aroused with cognitive process disrupted . . . you can't expect them to contend with commands," he told the inquiry.

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