Sunday, May 18, 2008

TN! of the Week: Sgt. Mark Tonner of the Vancouver Police

You'd think that any Police Sergeant who headlines his latest biweekly column “Use of Taser has saved lives” would support it with proper proof of some lives saved, right?

Not so with Vancouver Police Officer Sgt. Mark Tonner; he'll write anything to back-up his flawed argument, and have it published too.

Mark Tonner's personal downtown story
Through Mark Tonner's personal “downtown Vancouver story” we are led to believe that tasers save lives. Read along:

A man standing in the middle of a side street stepped into a shooter's stance in front of my police car, aiming a pistol at my face. It should have occurred to me to run him over, but I backed away, rolling behind a concrete pillar.

Out on foot and taking a peek, I saw the man still standing on the street, pistol in hand but pointing downwards. A small group of us crept up in uniform, shouting at the man to drop the weapon. He didn't. We all knew that if he raised it we'd have to shoot. A uniformed friend deployed a beanbag round -- an energy-absorbent projectile from a shotgun. It's supposed to drop someone to the ground, but it relies on the ability to feel pain. No luck. The recipient turned and ran, hiding behind a concrete pillar.

Engaging the man then meant stepping into a line of fire at close range, with no way to see where his pistol was directed. Another uniformed friend reached out with a Taser. The suspect went rigid from the electrical charge and was taken into custody.

What appeared to me like a pistol was actually a piece of metal from a bicycle held out in a shooter's stance. Imagine the tragedy if the man had been shot for posing with a piece of a bike.
Does this read like a sound argument that supports the title “Use of Taser has saved lives” to you? Well, it doesn't to me, and here's why.

1. If I understand his “downtown story” correctly, then the "suspect" never actually carried a pistol, but a “piece of metal from a bicycle”, most probably a bike lock: no lives were at danger to begin with. Mark had been fooled by perhaps some kind of lunatic, but nothing more than that. There were no lives to save.

2. Sgt. Tonner explains that he wasn't alone. "A small group of [police officers]" was at the “downtown” fool-some-police-officers scene. Were all Vancouver police officers unable to see the difference between a gun and a bike lock? It's hard to imagine. And would a single police officer shoot a “suspect” without knowing 100% sure that what was aimed at them was an actual gun? I sincerely hope not.

3. Even in the worst case, if the faulty assessment of the police would have actually resulted in the firing of real bullets onto the “the suspect”, we cannot conclude that this would automatically result in the death of the lock-carrying-police-fooler. This instance comes to mind.

No proof of even a single life saved
So there you have it; no proof of even a single life saved. But there's something else that bothers me here.

Isn't Mark Tonner lying here?
Mark opens his downtown story this way:
“A man standing in the middle of a side street stepped into a shooter's stance in front of my police car, aiming a pistol at my face”
Isn't that a flat-out lie? Shouldn't it have read “what appeared to me to be a pistol”. Why lie?

Only fearful and poorly performing officers need the taser
Although Mark's column does in no way proof that tasers save lives, his “downtown story” is the perfect example why Canadian police forces should not be using the electroshock weapon. because fearful police officers will use it far too soon, and far to easily. Taser-carrying police officers seem to see ghosts in every downtown corner: lunatics become instantly criminals (“it should have occurred to me to run him over”), bike-locks become instantly weapons, and there's only one instant solution: the taser.

Does the Vancouver really need the taser to make up for poorly performing peace officers? Of course not. If a whole group of officers can't see the difference between a bike-lock or a gun (but for some strange reason are able to see precisely at what direction this “gun” is pointed: see story), then isn't there something seriously wrong with our Vancouver's PD? Do they not learn what good policing entails?

Taser-Nazi of the Week
Sgt. Mark Tonner, I've got news for you. Repeating corporate mantras (tasers save lives) without backing them up with solid evidence, and spinning a personal story of poor policing into a justification for the use of the torturous electroshock gun a.k.a. the taser has gotten you nominated for taser-Nazi of the week. Congratulations!

Official 2008 Taser-Nazi nominees:
- Sergeant Mark Tonner - Vancouver Police Department (May 18, 2008)
- Cpl. Scott Willson - Kamloops RCMP (May 9, 2008)
- Sergeant Willie Merenick - Greater Vancouver Transit Authority Police Service (April 18, 2008)

- Vancouver Province - "Use of Tasers has saved lives"
- Getting it Right: Taser Nazis
- Taser Stock is down again

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