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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

RCMP buying more tasers for West

January 22, 2008
Glen McGregor, Canwest News Service

After pledging to restrict its use of Tasers, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is stocking up on the electronic stun guns for distribution to its members in Western Canada. The force is seeking suppliers to provide 160 new Tasers and holders for replacement cartridges, even amid ongoing public concern about the use of the device following several in-custody deaths.

The Taser X26E unit specified by the RCMP in tender documents is available only to law enforcement agencies and replaces an older model that gradually is being phased out. It fires a probe that zaps a 50,000-volt charge, temporarily incapacitating the target.

The order for a new batch of "conducted energy weapons" comes after safety concerns were raised when a Polish man arriving in Vancouver in October died after he was Tasered and pinned to the floor by RCMP officers.

The Mounties contend Tasers remain a preferred alternative to other forms of force and say they almost always are safe. RCMP Commissioner William Elliott said a moratorium on the Taser would put the safety of RCMP members at risk.

But the force last month promised to curb the use of Tasers following an interim report by Paul Kennedy, the head of the watchdog Commission for Complaints Against the RCMP. The RCMP appeared to agree with Kennedy's recommendation that would restrict Tasers to situations where suspects are combative or risk seriously injuring themselves or others. The force policy now dictates Tasers may be used only on persons who show "active resistant behaviour and higher categories of behaviour, e.g. combative or death, grievous bodily harm."

Human rights monitor Amnesty International says it has recorded more than 290 deaths involving police electric shock weapons in the U.S. and Canada, from June 2001 to Sept. 2007. The organization calls on law enforcement agencies to stop using them until their safety can be assessed through independent study. While Amnesty recognizes Tasers can be a preferred alternative to more deadly force, it is concerned about the potential use as a "pain compliance" tool for individuals already in custody.

The RCMP contract offer specifies the new Tasers and cartridge holders will be distributed to its "D" Division, in Winnipeg and Regina.

It has a maximum range of about 10 metres and can penetrate clothing as thick as 5.1 centimetres, according to the product specification sheet. It also is available with a USB interface that allows the weapon's firing data to be downloaded to a computer.

The weapons sell for about $800 US apiece, but likely could be acquired at a lower cost in bulk.

An RCMP spokeswoman said the purchase of new Tasers follows normal procedures. "There is no embargo or legislation that instructs us not to use it," said Sgt. Nathalie Deschenes. "Our members require this tool."

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