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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Researcher says police who use stun guns could save lives with defibrillators

January 11, 2009
The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER, B.C. — If police are going to continue to carry stun guns, they should also have to carry defibrillators, says a retired expert in electromagnetics.

Andrew Podgorski has been fascinated with the devices since they went on sale in the United States decades ago, and has generated a half-metre-thick stack of files and reports on the weapons.

The Taser device is one of the most widely used shock weapons by Canadian police forces.

The conducted energy weapons have come under greater scrutiny across the country following deaths of several people after being shocked by police.

None of those deaths was more controversial than that of Robert Dziekanski, who died on the floor of Vancouver's airport after he was shocked five times. Witness video of Dziekanski's dying moments were broadcast around the world.

Podgorski's study, which was filed with the B.C. public inquiry looking into Dziekanski's death, concluded the stun guns "could induce a fatal fibrillation of the human heart."

The B.C. Crown prosecutor's office announced last month no charges would be laid against the officers involved in the incident.

The inquiry is set to resume Jan. 19.

Podgorski, who worked for Canada's National Research Council until 1995, said he believes the weapons are very dangerous.

And he said if every officer carrying a Taser also had a device to restart the heart, it would save lives.

"If you use Tasers, you have to have a defibrillator," Podgorski said in an interview from his Ottawa home.

He said that in almost all the cases where the heart stops beating, a defibrillator can revive the person.

Podgorski believes the weapon is connected to the deaths of about one in 1,000 people shocked by the devices.

Taser International, based in Phoenix, Ariz., has consistently argued the devices aren't the cause of people dying after police confrontations.

Pete Holran, vice-president of public relations at Taser, said dozens of tests show impulses from the device don't affect the heart.

He added that it wasn't until 1999, well after Podgorski's study, that the weapon was fully developed to incapacitate the body's muscles, making a person incapable of moving.

"Before it was just a pain-compliance device," he said.

RCMP started using Tasers in 2001 and the weapons now are widespread among Canadian police forces.

Podgorski's 1990 report concluded stun guns can affect the heartbeat and present a serious safety hazard.

The study was conducted on pigs with pacemakers. Each pig was killed by a stun-gun shock, then jolted back to life with a defibrillator.

"From the human point of view, this was stunning," Podgorski said. "I mean, the pig was dying and then we revived it."

But Podgorski said that would take more police training and it would be expensive for officers to carry around the life-saving devices.

He said he's sad to hear news stories about people dying after being jolted by Tasers.

"I predicted it. I'm sorry about it."

RCMP Sgt. Tim Shields said police haven't seen any documented evidence that would support Podgorski's theory.

"If someone has something that has been well-researched, then we would definitely like to see it," he said.

"Our priority is saving lives and we only use the Taser in cases where there are direct threats to the public or to the police officer."

Shields said the suggestion that police officers who carry Tasers also carry a defibrillator might not be practical because of the training and cost involved.

"However, if carrying defibrillators was a reality ... we would be all for it, because there are many other incidents where a defibrillator might come in useful to save somebody's life, completely unrelated to the Taser."

Last month, municipal police forces in B.C. agreed to remove and test stun guns acquired before 2006 over concerns they generated higher shocks than manufacturer specifications.

Several other forces across the country, including the RCMP, also announced they would begin a more rigorous testing process for the weapons.

Holran said defibrillators have been proven to save lives.

"What isn't proven is a direct correlation between the use of a Taser device and the need for a defibrillator," he said.

He said the Taser is probably the most tested device weapon a police officer carries, and human studies have shown the heart isn't affected.

"And so if there's no effect on the heart, if it's only affecting the skeletal muscles, then the correlation would be there would be no need for a defibrillator in direct causal relationship with Taser use," Holran said.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If police continue to use the taser indiscriminately with possible dire consequences as they have been doing up until now, yes, they must consider carrying defibrilators and also, they should consider driving ambulances. As the list of the dead grows, police must reconsider the rules that have been provided to them by taser international...why is our minister of public safety not responding?