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Saturday, December 02, 2000

Toronto tactical squad to test stun guns

December 2, 2000
Chris Eby, National Post

Electric stun guns have been added to the arsenal of Toronto police as the force searches for alternatives to using lethal force in violent confrontations. Tasers -- stun guns that fire a metal dart charged with a paralyzing electric current -- are already credited with saving lives in other parts of Canada. The Ontario government yesterday approved a four-month pilot project with the Taser used exclusively by the Toronto force's tactical unit.

"This is going to save lives; I know for a fact it has in Victoria and it has in Edmonton," said Toronto police Sergeant Doug Walker, who heads the tactical unit's training section. There are field studies underway by city police in Edmonton and Ottawa and in six RCMP detachments and two special units in Alberta, B.C. and Saskatchewan. The Victoria City Police Department has already included the devices in their "less-lethal" inventory (pepper spray, tear gas, bean-bag guns), with the blessing of both provincial politicians and civil libertarians.

The Taser works by firing a metal probe propelled by wires from distances of up to 6.5 metres that breaks the skin and zaps the target with 50,000 volts of electricity, over-riding the person's neuromuscular system, making muscle contractions impossible.

In the 20 years North American law enforcement agencies have used Tasers, no deaths have been directly linked to the devices. And, according to a recent medical study conducted by the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, the electrical shock does not interfere with heart rhythm or pace makers.

There is also no medical evidence to date of any lasting effects. The shock lasts a mailer of seconds and recovery is virtually instantaneous. Police say the devices are invaluable in situations where officers are confronted by violent suspects who are mentally disturbed or in a drug induced rage. The limitations are that they can only be used up to certain distances and the dart may not always pierce heavy coats or clothing. Environmental factors may also play a role. The locations of the RCMP field study are deliberate in that the officers are seeing if the stun guns work in freezing-cold temperatures (High Level, Alta.) and rainy, humid climates (Surrey, B.C.).

The results of both the RCMP Ottawa, and Edmonton police studies are expected in January.

Yesterday, the media were given a live demonstration of the effects of Tasers at the Emergency Task Force barracks in Toronto, where the squad's commander, Superintendent Wayne Oldham, volunteered to be stunned. With a probe already attached to his chest, Supt. Oldham charged an officer with a rubber knife, simulating a violent confrontation. After being zapped the six-foot tall, 220-pound man cried out in pain and crumpled to the ground.

"It was painful ... electric pulses going through your whole body. I just fell down, I couldn't take another half a step," Supt. Oldham said immediately afterwards, his face red and his brow wet with perspiration. "I didn't think it would be that bad."

Patti Whitten, a tactical paramedic, also allowed herself to be zapped and after collapsing in a heap, gasping, described the feeling as like being "hit with a sledgehammer."

Sunday, October 01, 2000

Taser Technology Research Paper

September 2000
Author: Sgt. Darren Laur, former Taser Shareholder

Wednesday, May 24, 2000

Ottawa police test new weapon

May 24, 2000
CBC News

The Ottawa-Carleton police will be testing out a new weapon they say could save lives. It's a taser gun, designed to immobilize a person with a zap of 50,000 volts. To prove that it works, and that it's safe, police used it on each other and a few volunteers from the media.

The taser works by firing two tiny darts, each trails a copper wire. When they hit someone, the circuit is complete and 50,000 volts surge through the person's body. It makes the person lose control of their muscles, causing them to fall to their knees. This allows a police officer to gain control of the offending party.

"Basically we're looking for an option to bring a person under control without having to resort to lethal options," says Police Chief Vince Bevan.

Pepper spray is now in every officer's belt, but to be effective it has to go directly into a person's eyes.

The bean bag gun was considered a non-lethal way of bringing down a person, until three years ago when Ottawa police killed a deranged man with it. Constable John McDonald says, "This technology would have been perfect in this incident."

The tasers will only be in the hands of the tactical team during a six-month trial. It has the blessing of Ontario's solicitor general.

"The ministry itself is interested in making sure police officers have the equipment they need to fulfill their duties, and in this case we're interested in testing a new less-than-lethal-force option," says Steven Byrd.

It's hoped the tasers will be a deterrent more often than they are used. Chief Bevan says, "People should be warned: we have them and we won't hesitate to use them."

As with all non-lethal weapons, the benefits of the taser ultimately depend on how and when it's used.

Most people accept that it's better to be shot by a taser than by a police gun. The B.C. Civil Liberties Association welcomed the taser's deployment in that province for just that reason.

But some research suggests that the very non-lethality of weapons like the taser encourages police to use them in scuffles and demonstrations when, in the old days, no weapon would have been used at all.