Robert Dziekanski was a non-English speaking Pole who arrived in Vancouver International Airport October 14th of this year. After 8 to 10 hours in the Immigration hall, he was Tasered by the RCMP and died a few moments later.
The video of the incident, which is here, bears watching. However, I will caution you, it is disturbing. Paul Pritchard, who shot the video, took all of the incident, from Dziekanski acting agitated and tossing stuff around, to the attempts of the security guards to calm him down, then the four RCMP officers confronting him. The video ends with Dziekanski being Tasered at least twice and being cuffed by the RCMP. Dziekanski died moments later.
We don’t know if the Taser contributed to the death, the officer kneeling on his neck, or some other reason that contributed to his immediate death, but the end result is the same: Robert Dziekanski is dead.
The video has received significant comment for a number of reasons, not the least of which is a demonstrated failure of the four RCMP officers to handle the situation properly. Police in Canada are trained to use force in an appropriate manner. There is a hierarchy of force that can be used by an officer to take control of a situation.
At the lowest, and least deadly level, is a loud voice and firm, specific commands for someone to do something: "Get out of the car, place your hands on the trunk and do not move." would be an example of a command attitude. For those of us who speak English, the message is clear, concise and easy to comprehend.
In confrontations where a command attitude is not producing compliance, there are other ranges of responses: Use of a baton, in a directional manner, or in a striking manner can resolve things. For some of us, the mere sight of an officer taking the baton out, means things are not progressing well and are not going to end happily.
Using a baton directionally, as in using it as a pointer, in combination with a command attitude and voice command of "Down!" or "Get over there!" will convince many to obey, as there is an implied use of the baton to force compliance.
Using a baton in a striking mode means discussion is over, although commands must be continued to ensure compliance. Striking targets with a baton include the wrists, elbows, knees, thigh muscles, midsection, or to the side of the body. If you’ve ever been hit with a baton, or been accidentally nailed with a baseball bat, or hockey stick, you know that falling over is about your only option.
OC Spray, (Oleoresin-Capsicum) or pepper spray is higher up the spectrum of responses. With a range of two to three meters, the hand-held dispenser can eject a stream of very debilitating fluid that burns the eyes and nasal mucosa almost instantly. OC Spray is a stand-off weapon, meaning the officer cannot physically approach the subject for safety reasons.
Tasers are also stand-off weapons, where the officer cannot safely approach the subject. With a range of up to 30 feet, the electrical charge will drop almost any subject to the ground so restraint can be applied. There is significant discussion regarding the lethality of the Taser, but generally it is considered non-lethal.
Last on the list is the firearms response, or use of deadly force. This tends to be under the heading of "A Bad Day". Sidearms, shotguns and other firearms are lethal weapons, even if they fire beanbags or rubber bullets. Up close enough, moving fast enough and aimed at the head, a bag of marshmallows could kill someone if launched from a firearm.
The reason I’ve detailed this short list of responses is to remind you that police have a range of things they can do. They are trained to escalate only as necessary, based on the situation at hand.
Confronted with a gun-wielding subject, who is firing rounds at them, the officer will skip over the earlier steps and reach for the sidearm. That’s perfectly sensible, but well trained officers will also continue to demand compliance with a command attitude.
If the subject seems agitated from something other than the obvious, officers are trained to talk the subject down to determine exactly what the problem is. A subject screaming about blue lemons and the dragons, while waving a gun is having other issues that reside inside their head. They’re not necessarily looking to kill everyone nearby.
A subject screaming "You’ll never take me alive!" is not someone to be taken lightly, especially if they’re firing back, with well-aimed rounds.
Confronted with a very angry subject waving a knife or other cutting weapon, less lethal methods can be used. Establishing a four or five person perimeter to close off escape routes and commanding the subject to comply may or may not be the first step. For that kind of circumstance, OC Spray, then physical restraint would probably be prudent.
Confronted with an unarmed, but agitated subject, a command attitude and using the baton directionally would probably be enough to ensure compliance then, physical restraint to ensure officer safety. In the even the subject becomes violent, the baton could be used as a striking weapon to ensure compliance.
In any of the cases, the first step is a command attitude: Evaluate the reasons for the activity and take control of the situation through verbal commands and body language.
Where this all falls to pieces is a subject who does not speak English. Robert Dziekanski seemed to recognize that the officers were the Police and appeared to be heading towards compliance, but the officers couldn’t understand what he was saying.
There was little or no attempt at communication with the subject.
There was no attempt to establish a perimeter to control the subject’s movement.
There was no attempt to get the subject to sit down on the floor, or go prone.
There was no pause to get a supervisor, or an interpreter to command Robert Dziekanski in a language he understood.
There was no attempt to physically restrain the unarmed subject by all four officers acting in concert. Dziekanski wasn’t a small man, but he wasn’t 280 lbs of hard muscle either.
There was no use of the baton.
There was no use of OC Spray.
The officers, based on what I have seen on the video tape, walked up to the unarmed subject, figured out they couldn’t communicate with him, and shot him with the Taser, then used significant physical force to put him in restraints.
The training that the officers received teaches them exactly how to act and react. The training was not followed. Robert Dziekanski is dead.
There will be investigations, inquests and commissions to find out all the facts, but the first look, assuming Robert Dziekanski had no pre-existing medical conditions, indicated that the RCMP skipped over a number of steps and used excessive physical force, in association with the Taser to put him in restraints.
For this, we should be very, very angry. And very, very ashamed. The RCMP is better than that.