A social media video that captures the moment a man is tasered by a Vancouver police officer is prompting calls for more training for police making mental health calls.
It happened on Saturday near Rogers Arena. The Vancouver Police Department said someone called 911 about a suicidal man who was acting erratically and putting himself in danger.
Jessica Wetzstein posted parts of the incident on social media. In his videos, he can be heard gasping in shock at the man being tasered.
“Why did they do that? He wasn’t resisting in any way,” he can be heard saying.
The video shows six police officers standing in a semi-circle around the man, and without notice, a female officer discharges the Taser.
“This man clearly has an episode of mental health. He’s sitting here screaming,” Wetzstein said.
The VPD confirmed the man was having a mental health crisis and when officers asked him to go to hospital for a psychological assessment, he refused.
“It’s scary to think that this is who will deal with a mental health crisis,” said Sarah Blythe, a Downtown Eastside advocate. “Who would ask for help in a suicide call if it was help that came?”
“I’ve seen compassion come from the police on many occasions, but I’ve also seen the police deal with things where they create a much worse situation than necessary,” she said.
In an email, Sgt. Steve Addison said police have the power to arrest anyone they believe to be a danger to themselves or others and must take that person to a doctor for evaluation. He added that they are also allowed to use as much force as necessary in the performance of their duties.
“Conducted energy weapons are carried by specially trained VPD officers and are used to prevent bodily harm to police and the public. They can also be used to prevent a person from self-harm,” said Sgt. Addison wrote.
But Rob Gordon, professor of criminology at Simon Fraser University, said there is reason to look into the use of a Taser in this situation.
“Based on the limited footage I have seen this afternoon and my participation in national and provincial reviews following the Braidwood Inquiry, I suspect there is sufficient doubt to warrant an investigation into the officers’ conduct in regards to their decision to use a conducted energy weapon,” he told CTV News.
Questions are also being raised about the officers’ conduct after the man was tasered.
A few minutes after the incident, while some of the officers were dealing with the man, a police officer punched the female officer who had discharged the CEW.
When asked why this happened, Sgt. Addison wrote: “(It) would not be appropriate to speculate without full context, but it is common for police officers to use non-verbal cues to monitor one another during dynamic and highly stressful situations. This is sometimes called a buddy -Check.”
Blythe called the punch highly inappropriate.
“I can’t imagine any context in which a person would be happy to taser a suicidal person. It’s completely outrageous,” she said.
Police said the man was taken to hospital for an evaluation of his mental health.
He was also wanted on two warrants and was taken into custody.