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Thursday, December 11, 2008

CBC study used 'flawed data,' taser manufacturer argues

December 11, 2008

TORONTO and VANCOUVER — As more police forces withdraw older models of tasers, the controversial stun gun manufacturer is insisting its devices are safe and has offered to help test them.

Police forces in Winnipeg, Newfoundland, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Fredericton and York Region, north of Toronto, are following police agencies in British Columbia and the RCMP in removing pre-2006 taser models for tests. Ontario has ordered tests but no blanket recall of the older models.

The move stemmed from a CBC/Radio-Canada report that found four of 41 tested units discharged more current than the manufacturer said was possible. The tests involved X26 taser models manufactured before Dec. 31, 2005.

Peter Holran, a spokesman for Taser International, dismissed the report as scientifically unsound.

"It is unfortunate that false allegations based on scientifically flawed data can create such uncertainty," he said in a statement. The Arizona-based company said it has provided its factory test protocol to laboratories in Canada "so police agencies can avoid the scientific errors made by the CBC." Mr. Holran said the four stun guns that produced higher electrical currents can be explained by the lack of a spark test before the devices were used, a safety procedure required of all officers using tasers in the field.

A spark test is required because a taser that hasn't been fired for a while needs more voltage to activate, he said.

Yesterday, the Winnipeg Police Service cited the test results as it announced it was removing the X26 models from service. "I think it is a very valuable tool. But given this information with regards to these particular models, we are concerned," said Constable Jason Michalyshen. Tasers became controversial in Winnipeg when 17-year-old Michael Langan died after being tasered during a confrontation with police last summer.

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary removed tasers from service on Tuesday. Constable Paul Davis said the RNC is awaiting the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police's policy on tasers.

"We don't know where we're going to go at this point in time as far as testing, replacing, repairing, that type of thing," he said. "That decision will made some time in the future."

The RNC suspended its purchase of stun guns for front-line officers last fall following the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski after a tasering incident at Vancouver International Airport.

In Quebec, Public Security Minister Jacques Dupuis has ordered that all tasers manufactured before Dec. 31, 2005, be systematically tested by the provincial crime lab, in addition to random audits on later models.

Vancouver Police have completed an inventory of pre-2006, X26 model tasers. Sixty-three of the 171 tasers in the VPD will be taken out of service for further testing. This follows a request yesterday by Solicitor-General John van Dongen asking municipal police forces around B.C. to recall pre-2006, X26 models from service for further testing. In Ontario, the Ministry of Community Safety has instructed police services to check their X26 models, department spokesman Anthony Brown said yesterday.

York Regional Police Chief Armand La Barge said concerns surrounding tasers purchased prior to 2006 resulted in the force pulling 14 of its 31 tasers from service. "They will be tested before any consideration is given to having them put back into circulation," he said.

"We are looking at having a process in place whereby we would be examining all our tasers on an ongoing basis."

Toronto Police, Canada's largest municipal force, previously replaced its old tasers, and no longer has any that were purchased before 2006.

Other forces say their devices function properly. "We're quite confident our tasers are all in good working order," said Constable Wayne Patterson of the Peel Regional Police. "They are tested regularly each time they are taken out."

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