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Friday, December 12, 2008

Kingston police refuse to test tasers

December 12, 2008

Kingston police won't stop using their tasers and they won't conduct scientific tests on them, despite a directive from the province about the controversial stun guns.

"My position right now, and the information I'm receiving through the [Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police], is there is not a need to do that," Kingston Police Chief Stephen Tanner said yesterday.

A growing number of police departments across the country are taking all of their older model Tasers out of service for testing after an investigative report by CBC television raised questions about the reliability of the devices.

The RCMP, all police in British Columbia, forces in Winnipeg, Newfoundland, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Fredericton and York Region, near Toronto, are removing pre-2006 Tasers for tests.

The testing affects only the X26 model made by the U.S.-based company. Kingston Police use only X26s. They have 34, although only 30 are in use at a time. Four are kept in storage as backups.

The CBC investigation found that four out of 41 Tasers that were tested delivered more electricity than the manufacturer says is possible. The devices are designed to fire 50,000 volts to incapacitate a person.

Taser International says the CBC's testing procedure was flawed.

After the CBC report was broadcast, Ontario's Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services issued a directive to all police departments. "The ministry has instructed all police services in Ontario to test their X26 models to ensure they're functioning correctly," ministry spokesman Tony Brown told the Whig-Standard.

Tanner said it's his understanding that police were asked only to "examine" their X26s to ensure that they are "functioning correctly, according to standard training and practices."

"It doesn't say send them out, call a separate company [or] call the manufacturer and have them ... electrically tested," Tanner said. As a result, Kingston Police won't order any scientific testing to determine what voltage is being discharged by their Tasers.

"I do not believe that any will be taken out of service at this point in time," Tanner said. "They will be examined [and] we will make sure that everyone is complying with our procedures."

Kingston procedures require an officer who has been issued a Taser to test fire it, or spark test it, after it has not been used for any length of time. Taser International says this explains the CBC's faulty findings, since the weapons were not spark tested before they were examined. In a spark test, the gun is fired in drive-stun mode. An electrical current flashes between two contacts at the tip of the weapon. Tasers also can fire two metal darts that attach to a suspect to deliver the electrical charge.

Tanner does not want to deny his officers the use of Tasers. "The risk would be much greater in not having those weapons on the street, either for the officers not to have them to protect themselves or to have that alternative level of force available to them," he said.

Under Ontario regulations, only supervisors and tactical officers can carry and use Tasers.

Kingston Police have used Tasers five times this year, most recently in an incident about two weeks ago when a 23-year-old man was shot by Tasers twice during a confrontation at a home in the west end.

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