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Sunday, May 18, 2008

EDITORIAL: Concerns rise on taser use

May 18, 2008
Chronicle Herald (Halifax)

THE grieving mother of Robert Dziekanski, the Polish immigrant who died after being Tasered by Mounties at Vancouver’s international airport last fall, last week told a B.C. public inquiry into Taser use that the incident has "shattered" her faith in the RCMP.

Police forces across Canada which use Tasers should be paying close attention to Zofia Cisowski’s words.

Despite a string of unexplained incidents – in Canada and elsewhere – in which people have died after being Tasered, police spokesmen have continued, for the most part, to defend Tasers as safe, useful tools for law enforcement. Tasers are proven to have saved thousands of lives, they say, echoing claims – and sometimes the precise numbers used – by the device’s manufacturer, Taser International. Tasers are a superior alternative, backers claim, when otherwise deadly force might need to be used.

The trouble is, the real life evidence backing these claims is sometimes sparse.

If thousands of lives have been saved because of Taser use, surely police forces can produce hundreds of examples showing where that was the case. As for the claim of Tasers being a better option than firearms, surely police are not saying they would otherwise have had to use their guns in incidents such as when an 82-year-old man was Tasered in his hospital bed in B.C. recently because he was brandishing a penknife, or when a Dartmouth teenager was Tasered in her own bedroom in February 2007, after being unco-operative with police called to the house by a parent.

The public’s faith in the judgment of law enforcement officials – including the transit police in Vancouver, who have been Tasering some people who have attempted to flee rather than pay their fares – has been continually eroded by reports of incidents in which police officers use Tasers both too quickly and against inappropriate targets. It’s as if police, rather than trying to talk down situations, reach for the "Easy" button and draw and fire their Tasers.

Even more disturbing is recent evidence that Tasers may, in certain circumstances, affect the heart’s internal rhythms. Dr. Zia Tseng, a San Francisco cardiologist and electrophysiologist, earlier told the B.C. inquiry that Tasers pose potentially fatal health risks which are not taken into account by studies "proving" the devices’ safety. Taser research, he said, is done under optimal conditions, not the kind of operational realities police officers often face. Fatal arrhythmias induced by Tasers wouldn’t show up in autopsies, Dr. Tseng also testified.

Earlier in May, the Canadian Medical Association Journal released a new study showing Tasers could, depending on how close to the heart a shock was administered and whether the subject being Tasered had excess levels of adrenaline or other drugs in their system, adversely affect heart rhythms. In light of those findings, the Journal’s reporting that RCMP operating manuals actually suggest Tasers might be the "most effective" way to deal with agitated, delirious people surely indicates those manuals need revision.

With serious questions about safety, and inconsistencies in police training and policies, we urge the Taser be holstered.

See other recent editorials.

1 comment:

Mr. E-D said...

Letter to the Editor of the Halifax Chronicle Herald:

Re: Editorial Sunday May 18, 2008 "Concerns rise on Taser use"

Dear Editor,

The points you mentioned about tasers are just the tip of the iceberg.

We Canadians were, for the most part, asleep for the first 16
taser-associated deaths in Canada. The sequence that finally caught
our attention was the famous "Don't tase me bro!" incident in Florida,
followed very closely by (#17) Robert Dziekanski, October 14, 2007; (#18) Quilem Registre, October 17, 2007; (#19) Howard Hyde in Halifax, November 22, 2007; and (#20) Robert Knipstrom, November 24, 2007. At this point the public outcry was overwelming - and for some reason the taser-associated deaths in Canada have stopped. There were five taser-associated deaths in Canada in just three months (Sept - Nov 2007), which led to a huge public outcry, and then there have been no further taser-associated deaths in Canada in the five months since.
Interesting... Compare that to the USA: there is little public outcry
and their taser-associated death rate has been holding steady at about seven per month. I doubt that these are simply coincidences.

The RCMP claimed that their use of the taser has saved 4000 lives
(their inane assumption is that every taser deployment could have been a shooting). In fact, their rate of using tasers is about one hundred times the historical and accepted rate of them shooting to kill with guns. If they'd shot 4000 people to death over just a few years, then there would have been a revolution. And this isn't the only
misinformation coming from the RCMP regarding this issue. It has
gotten to the point that whatever they say about tasers must be
discounted as a probable lie.

For example, they had to taser the 82-year old man 'because' he had a
knife. But they tasered him in 'drive mode' which means that the
officer had to get within arm's length to apply the taser to the
elderly man's belly. If the 3-inch pocket knife was really a concern,
then they would have fired the barbs from a safe distance. Strange
that they apparently didn't need to deploy the barbs...

When I started to look into this issue in some detail, I uncovered
much misleading propaganda from Taser. For example, Taser Chairman Tom Smith was asked how many of his taser safety studies were really
independent. He answered that 80% of the studies were independently
funded (and failed to highlight the distinction between 'independent'
and 'independently funded'). One major study funded by the US
government was stacked with Taser insiders. Everything they do is

Their propaganda about 'Excited Delirium' is a case in point. Taser
sent out brochures promoting this archaic term for a supposed medical
condition to every medical examiner and coroner they could find. Their
own lawyer, Mr. Brave, registered the domain name ExcitedDelirium.com
(no dash) and redirected the traffic to a spokes-puppet organization called IPICD which is sponsored by Mr. Brave.

One of their in-house experts, Dr. Mark Kroll, is a serial
non-discloser of his many close ties to Taser. He sat as chair of
their in-house so-called Medical Advisory Board at the same time that he was sitting on stock options worth about a million dollars. In spite of him being a so-called expert with a Ph.D., I have caught him out making errors or misleading statements. Dr. Kroll is the prime example of a Taser-insider, but his name is listed as an author on
many of the independently funded (as opposed to independent) studies.

The M26 taser was introduced in 1999 and was touted as haveing an
"Advanced" waveform. This M26 waveform was said to be safe because the pulses were of such high frequency (50,000 Hz) and short duration. But in 2003, Taser introduced the X26 which is low frequency (just 19 Hz) and has a continuous 100% duty cycle for each 5-second cycle. Perhaps not coincidently, the taser-associated death rate (North America) started to climb from one per month to seven per month at that time.

Because of the subtle nature of the arguments and the clever propaganda from Taser, it is almost impossible to debate the issue if there are any limits on the available time and space. So I started a blog, www.Excited-Delirium.com (with a dash), where I have the necessary space to lay out all the arguments in some detail. The blog now has about 300 posts.

Another key Canadian blog is TNT - TRUTH ... not TASERS (at
http://truthnottasers.blogspot.com) which is operated by the sister of
Robert Bagnell who died after being tasered in June 2004.

These blogs can provide a wealth of information that you will not see
from the proponents of tasers.


Blog Owner
(with a dash)