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Friday, December 05, 2008

Concern about older Tasers

December 5, 2008

OTTAWA -- A new analysis of Taser stun guns finds some of the police weapons pack more of a shock than the manufacturer promises, raising questions about their safety.

The scientific review commissioned by the CBC and French-language Radio-Canada found four out of 41 guns tested actually discharged more current than Taser International says is possible.

In some of the test firings the guns delivered 50% more current.

The examination was conducted by an American lab, National Technical systems, using X26 model Tasers from seven police departments in the U.S. eager to see how the guns fared. The police services agreed to participate on condition of anonymity.

University of Montreal engineer Pierre Savard, who designed the testing procedure based on Taser International's own guidelines, found the results troubling.

Savard studies heart rhythms and how they are affected by electrical stimulation.

He says since cops are trained to aim the Taser at the chest for the best chance of a hit, the increase in current could be highly dangerous under certain circumstances.

"When you combine an increased current intensity with a dart that falls right over the heart for somebody who has cardio-vascular disease or other conditions, such as using drugs for example, it can all add up to a fatal issue."


Two other experts consulted by CBC, engineer Stephane Masse of the Toronto University Health Network, and engineer Roger Barr at Duke University in North Carolina, agreed with Savard's analysis.

The Taser X26 is widely used by the RCMP and many other police forces across North America. The four Tasers that malfunctioned were amongst the oldest, manufactured prior to 2005.

Savard wants police to stop using these older guns altogether until they have been tested to find out why so many stray from the manufacturer's specifications.

In a written response to the CBC, Taser International acknowledges the results show four of the devices are anomalies.

Magne Nerheim, Taser vice-president of research and development, suggests because the unusual behaviour appears in the first moments of firing it is a sign that the guns may not have been spark-tested regularly as Taser recommends to police officers.

But a Taser International testing protocol obtained by CBC makes no mention of a spark test.

Nerheim also says the results aren't "relevant from a medical safety perspective."

More than 20 people in Canada have died after being hit with a Taser.

Taser International insists the devices cannot be blamed for deaths.

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