The Greater Vancouver Transit Authority (TransLink) Police Service (GVTAPS) has come under fire for the use of tasers on the agency’s Skytrain service, because they were allegedly used on persons evading fares.
Documents released in April, indicated that tasers have been used 10 times in the past 18 months, including five times against riders that were trying to ride the system for free. The revelations have launched an external investigation into both the use of the tasers in these situations and the transit police force’s overall use of tasers.
In one instance, the documents showed that the taser was used when a passenger, who was riding without paying the fare, fled when confronted by transit police, while in another situation the taser was deployed because another suspected fare evader grabbed onto the platform railing and refused to let go.
A taser may be used when “the situation demands control over a non-compliant, suicidal, potentially violent or violent individual and lower force options were ineffective,” according to the transit police’s policy. GVTAPS officials were unavailable for comment about the situations or pending investigations; however, according to the documents each use of the taser was reviewed and found to be appropriate.
Other transit police forces equipped with tasers include the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority (L.A. Metro). The agency provides them to officers along with training on each component, how to fire it and the policy regarding its use.
“Where the taser would fall in is what we’d call a high risk or combative situation,” explained Michael Burse, sergeant, training and scheduling, for Metro’s police force. “It wouldn’t be used on somebody who refuses to sign a citation. It has to be a situation where he’s resisting arrest to the level of physically engaging the deputy in a fight or a physical struggle.”
Burse added that, like GVTAPS, each use of the taser is reviewed. L.A. Metro police tasers have a small computer that stores information, such as how long it was used in a certain situation, which is downloaded and reviewed. The length of time used is measured in cycles, which are five-second time periods where the taser fires, according to Burse.
Ed Golden, captain of police operations at Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), agrees with Burse that use of force on transit property is both rare and done only when absolutely necessary. DART police do not use tasers, however, they do use pepper spray.
“We usually go from verbal commands to a soft empty hand command where we just escort them. Usually about 90 percent of the time that’s all that is needed,” said Golden. “If we have to continue up the force continuum, then we’ll go to our pepper spray.”
Both Golden and Burse say that situations where pepper spray or tasers are deployed are few and far between, usually a couples times a month at most. Golden adds that DART has entertained the idea of using tasers.
“We haven’t seen a need for it, but like any other technology we’re continually looking at it to see if there’s development,” said Golden. “I don’t see DART going to a taser at this time.”
The GVTAPS investigation was still pending at press time.