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Thursday, May 25, 2006

The safety of tasers is questioned again

May 25, 2006
By ALEX BERENSON, New York Times

The safety of Tasers, the electric pistols that are widely used by police, is under new scrutiny after a study by a Wisconsin scientist showed that shocks from the guns cause the hearts of healthy pigs to stop beating.

The finding contradicts previous studies that showed that Taser shocks did not cause heart disturbances in pigs, whose hearts are similar to those in humans.

John G. Webster, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Wisconsin who conducted the new study, said the earlier studies contained serious errors because they did not account for the fact that pigs have a thick layer of muscle insulating their hearts from their skin. Humans do not.

Dr. Webster removed the muscle from the pigs' chests and placed Taser barbs close to their hearts before shocking the animals. "The previous research made a mistake," Dr. Webster said. "I was a little surprised. But I believe this research more accurately reflects the anatomy of humans."

While most Taser shots land too far from the heart to be lethal, barbs that penetrate the spaces between the ribs that surround the heart may have the potential to cause electrocution, he said.

Steve Tuttle, a spokesman for Taser International, which makes the weapons, said Dr. Webster's research was flawed and did not reflect the way that Tasers were used in humans. The current from a Taser shock is dispersed through the body rather than running directly into the heart, Mr. Tuttle said in an e-mail statement.

The earlier studies on pigs were financed by Taser International. The Justice Department paid for Mr. Webster's study, which is not yet completed. An abstract is posted on Dr. Webster's Web site, http://www.engr.wisc.edu/bme/faculty/webster--john.html

Tasers are pistol-shaped weapons that fire barbs up to 35 feet, delivering a 50,000-volt shock. Because they propel the barbs with compressed nitrogen instead of gunpowder, Tasers are not considered firearms and are not regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms or any other federal agency.

Dr. Ted Chan, a professor of clinical medicine at the University of California, San Diego who has studied the effect of Taser shocks on human volunteers, said Mr. Webster's research did not prove that Tasers could cause lethal heart disturbances.

In his research, which is also financed by the Justice Department, Dr. Chan has shocked more than 100 people and not found any changes in heart rhythms. More sophisticated tests conducted on about a dozen people have also failed to find damage, Dr. Chan said.

"Animal studies can point in certain directions, but ultimately you have to look at humans," he said.

Dr. Chan did add that most of the volunteers he tested were not shocked directly over their hearts.

More than 150 people have died after being shocked by Tasers, according to data compiled by Amnesty International, which has called for a moratorium on use of the guns. The weapons are used by almost 10,000 police departments in the United States and internationally, as well as the military. Tasers have been used or tested on volunteers about 200,000 times, Mr. Tuttle said.

Coroners have attributed most of the deaths to causes other than the Taser shock, like cocaine overdoses. But in a handful of cases Tasers have been listed as the primary or contributing cause.

Doctors and scientists have questioned whether Tasers can cause ventricular fibrillation, a lethal heart rhythm disturbance, as well as acidosis, a dangerous change in blood chemistry. Taser International says that many of the deaths have resulted from drug overdoses and that its weapons are safer than most other ways that police officers can use to restrain people.

Since 2002, Tasers have become popular with police departments because they offer officers a way to incapacitate people without having to touch them and because most people do not appear to suffer long-term injury after being shocked. Concerns about safety hurt Taser sales last year, but they have picked up in 2006, with Taser International reporting $14 million in sales in the first quarter.

In October, the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit group that is dedicated to improving police tactics and strategies, recommended that officers be allowed to use the weapons only on suspects who are actively resisting arrest. Some police departments have allowed officers to use Tasers on people who are simply refusing to follow their orders.

The forum's recommendations are not binding. But police departments that do not follow them could face greater legal liability.

Dr. Webster shocked 10 anesthetized pigs with a Taser after removing the skin and muscle over their hearts. On average, the pigs suffered ventricular fibrillation when a Taser barb was placed within 0.7 inch of their heart, according to the abstract of the clinical trial posted on Dr. Webster's Web site. In humans, the heart is situated 0.4 to 2 inches under the skin, Dr. Webster said.

Ventricular fibrillation is an electrical disturbance that causes the heart to beat irregularly and be unable to pump blood. It causes death within minutes unless the heart's normal rhythm is restored.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Waterloo officer cleared in tasered man's heart attack

May 24, 2006 at 12:54 PM EDT
Globe and Mail

Toronto — A Waterloo Region police officer has been cleared of wrongdoing after using a Taser on a man who then had a heart attack.

Officers were called to the Grand River Hospital to help subdue an agitated psychiatric patient on April 12.

Ontario's Special Investigations Unit said the officer used a Taser after a patient acted in a “dangerous and violent manner” in a hospital room.

The man was immobilized, handcuffed and given a sedative, but suffered a heart attack when he was being placed on a stretcher.

The SIU said in its report that it did not explore whether the Taser caused the heart attack, but it did say the officer's use of the Taser represented reasonable force and was justifiable.

The unidentified man was released from hospital six days after the incident.

The SIU investigates all circumstances involving police and civilians which result in serious injury, sexual assault or death.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Cleveland clinic study shows that cocaine actually increases the taser safety margin

May 19, 2006
News Release from Taser International

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz., May 19, 2006 (PRIMEZONE) -- TASER International, Inc. (Nasdaq:TASR), a market leader in advanced electronic control devices announced today that a study by the Cleveland Clinic reported a standard electrical discharge from a TASER(R) brand device does not induce ventricular fibrillation and that cocaine intoxication increases the safety margin even further.

The study used anesthetized adults pigs as animal models according to Dhanunjaya Lekkireddy, M.D., an electrophysiology fellow at the Cleveland Clinic, at the Heart Rhythm Society meeting. Five anesthetized adult pigs were infused intravenously with high-dose cocaine to study the interaction between the drug and the TASER X26's electrical current.

The study found that standard discharge from the TASER X26 did not induce ventricular fibrillation at any of the five tested body sites. The cocaine attenuated the effect of the shocks by 50% to 150% above the baseline safety margin.

The study indicates that cocaine may not cause arrhythmias and may actually protect against them in the absence of pre-existing myocardial ischemia, infarct, metabolic abnormalities or cardiomyopathy. According to Dr. Lekkireddy, the drugs appear to exert significant sodium channel blocking to increase ventricular fibrillation safety thresholds.

"A standard five-second stun gun application is unlikely to cause life-threatening arrhythmias, at least in the normal heart, irrespective of the position of application," said Dr. Lekkireddy.

"This is a ground breaking study which contradicts many speculations and popular myths about the interplay of cocaine and the electrical current of TASER technology," said Rick Smith, CEO for TASER International. "While cocaine is obviously dangerous by itself, the study found it is not an additive effect upon on the interaction with the electrical current of the TASER X26. In fact, contrary to popular myth, cocaine actually increased the safety margin by approximately 50 percent."

This study was published as an abstract and presented as a poster at the Heart Rhythm Society conference in Boston, MA today. These data and conclusions should be considered to be preliminary as they have not yet been reviewed and published in a peer-reviewed publication. More information on the study can be found at: http://www.taser.com/savinglives.

About TASER International, Inc.

TASER International provides advanced electronic control devices for use in the law enforcement, military, private security and personal defense markets. TASER devices use proprietary technology to incapacitate dangerous, combative or high-risk subjects who pose a risk to law enforcement officers, innocent citizens or themselves in a manner that is generally recognized as a safer alternative to other uses of force. TASER technology saves lives every day, and the use of TASER devices dramatically reduces injury rates for police officers and suspects. For more information on TASER life-saving technology, contact TASER International at (800) 978-2737 or visit our website at www.TASER.com.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Winnipeg police need civilian commission: inner-city group

May 8, 2006
CBC News

A group of inner-city residents in Winnipeg is calling on municipal politicians to create a civilian police commission to oversee the work of the city's police force.

Tom Simms, co-director of the Community Education Development Association, says many people want to know how the police make decisions on policy issues.

"I don't know how policy gets formed right now," he said. "Is it the mayor that makes the policy, or is it the [city's] protection committee? Is there a sort of strategy around community police? Who and how do you go about shaping that policy?"

"Some of these questions, I think, would be a lot more clear if there was a mechanism like a police commission to do those kinds of things."

A civilian commission could also play a vital role when a member of the public has a complaint about police, Simms told CBC News Monday.

Currently, complaints about police officers in Winnipeg and on other municipal forces are handled by the Law Enforcement Review Agency (LERA), a provincially mandeated, independent body.

However, some groups have complained the LERA system takes too long and is difficult to navigate, or that it's awkward to make complaints about police misconduct to LERA's commissioner, who is a retired RCMP officer. More than half of all complaints filed with LERA last year were abandoned or withdrawn.