Cookman: Tasers not for crowd control

Insp. Brian Cookman said that Tasers ordered by Kingston Police will not be used to control crowds like that which collected on Aberdeen Street Sept. 24.
Insp. Brian Cookman said that Tasers ordered by Kingston Police will not be used to control crowds like that which collected on Aberdeen Street Sept. 24.
Journal File Photo

According to Kingston Police Force Insp. Brian Cookman, the 30 Tasers ordered by the police for use during next year’s Homecoming will not be used for crowd control.

Cookman made the statement at the Jan. 5 meeting of the Committee for the Safe and Legal Use of Public and Private Space, formerly called the Committee to Restore Order. “[The Taser] is not a riot-control or a crowd-control tool,” Cookman told the Journal. “What it would be used for is a tool for us to effect an arrest.”

Cookman, not a member of the committee, was invited to speak at the meeting regarding the kind of force the Kingston Police would be prepared to use during next year’s Homecoming if the occasion arose.

Cookman said Tasers are considered a “use of force” option, and would be employed to break up a fight or assault, or to deal with someone trying to push police officers away or prevent them from doing their job.

“We’re not using it to herd people around,” he said.

Cookman said he is happy to have the opportunity to explain the proposed use of the Tasers, whose purchase costs have been approved by the city.

“We call it a less lethal option for us,” he said. “This is something that the government of the day have authorized the police to use, so it’s not something that we just decided on a whim we could go out and use.”

Naomi Lutes, AMS municipal affairs commissioner and a member of the committee, said she is glad Cookman made that clarification but believes more could be done.

“I think the clarification was good, but by no means has it solved the entire situation,” she said. “It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s where we should be to begin with.”

Lutes said she is concerned about talk, primarily by members of the police force and the mayor, of extended use of force in next year’s Homecoming.

“The rhetoric of violence was just escalating,” she said. “It’s very cyclical. Comments like that just fuel the atmosphere, and it does absolutely nothing [to prevent an accident].”

Lutes cited the significant media build up to this year’s Homecoming as an example of the way this tone can exacerbate an already volatile situation.

“Threats of police tactics, threats of violence just harm the entire situation,” she said. “This may have finally started to get through to the police.”

Lutes said Cookman assured the committee that under no circumstances would tear gas or water cannons be used in a scenario similar to the unsanctioned Aberdeen street party that occurred last September.

“He didn’t commit either way to pepper spray,” she added. “He would not promise unequivocally that it would not be used.”

In his interview with the Journal, Cookman confirmed that pepper spray was an option, but said it was less desirable because it carried the risk of “cross-contamination” where someone other than the target may be harmed by the spray.

Cookman said the Tasers would not replace less-aggressive police tactics.

“You always start with your least amount of force, and your least amount of force is talking to someone,” he said. “Whether they’re trying to assault you or whether you’re trying to keep someone from committing suicide ... the police always start with their verbal skills first.”

Cookman added that if an individual were complying with police instructions, police would not use increased force on him or her in any circumstance.

“What would the sense be? I mean that’s just punitive then,” he said. “What right would the police have to hurt someone when they’re not doing anything?”

However, if someone were resisting the police or preventing them from doing their job, Cookman said, a Taser would be used.

“You’re going to dictate how the police react to you,” he said. “[If] I’m trying to get from A to B and I’m trying to get to people who are assaulting each other and someone grabs me by my shirt and starts shoving me back, well, [that person is] not going to win the day.”

In the Dec. 12 issue of the Gazette, Principal Karen Hitchcock said she is opposed to the use of Tasers and other tactics such as water cannons in a Homecoming situation.

“[Suggestions of Taser use are] damaging to the ability to have a constructive conversation,” she told the Journal. “Tasers are shown to be totally ineffective and could be potentially dangerous to our students.”

Cookman said while Tasers are “not a good option,” they are a “use of force” option available to police and that police spend weeks training to learn how to use them.

Although Kingston police officers are not required to be Tasered as a test before being qualified to use them, Cookman said he has tried a Taser on himself before.

“It just very quickly makes you immobile and it is a shock, as it hurts,” he said. “For me, within a minute, a minute or two, I was fine.”

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