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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Taser president denies weapons cause death

January 30, 2008
Meagan Fitzpatrick, Canwest News

OTTAWA - The president of Taser International Inc., fiercely defended his products on Parliament Hill on Wednesday, saying the devices reduce injury and save the lives of police officers and suspects around the world.

Tom Smith was on the hot seat at the House of Commons public safety committee, taking questions from MPs and making a case for Tasers, the brandname for conducted energy devices used by police forces across the country and the RCMP.

"My brother and I started our company with the mission of protecting life. That remains our mission today," said Smith.

Taser International Inc. president Tom Smith says there are less than 30 cases where Tasers have been listed as a contributing factor in a death. He referred to a binder beside him containing more than 120 studies that he says prove Tasers do not cause death and that his company has its own medical advisory board to help answer questions about safety.

"We have world class experts helping us conduct the studies and the research so that we can answer those questions so that we know, and take corporate responsibility, for knowing what we're going to introduce before it hits into the marketplace," Smith said.

He outlined how the Taser works and said the voltage that actually enters the body is very low. "I think some people are surprised to learn that the energy source for the Taser, the batteries that power it are the same batteries that are in most digital cameras," he said.

Smith said there are less than 30 cases where Tasers have been listed as a contributing factor in a death, meaning it was listed along with other devices. "But that is completely different than saying that a Taser caused a certain outcome," he said.

He said Tasers are used by more than 12,000 law enforcement agencies worldwide and that everywhere they've been used they've helped reduce the number of injuries to officers and suspects.

The company president acknowledged that his company has twice paid Canadian police officers - once to conduct Taser training on his own time in Europe and the other was paid to design a holster for the device.

The safety and use of Tasers by police dominated headlines in the fall after a Polish immigrant died at the Vancouver airport following an encounter with the RCMP in which a Taser was used. The incident was caught on video and viewed online around the world. Several investigations are underway into the death, which set off a national debate about the devices.

The RCMP later 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 to 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 people who show "active resistant behaviour and higher categories of behaviour, e.g. combative or death, grievous bodily harm." The RCMP has 2,840 conducted-energy weapons in its arsenal.

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