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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Alberta to test all 700 Tasers - Study finds about 12% malfunctioned

"In all, more than 400 from Alberta were tested and results showed 50 were not operating as they should."

April 23, 2009
By Gwendolyn Richards, Calgary Herald

The Alberta government has ordered the testing of all municipal police Tasers after a preliminary investigation found more than one in 10 were malfunctioning, a source tells the Herald.

Initial testing on roughly 400 stun guns was completed at the end of March and results showed about 12 per cent of the Tasers were functioning outside of the manufacturer's specifications.

About 60 per cent of those tested were performing below specifications. The province will now test the remaining Tasers -- about 700 more -- the source said.

How concerned Albertans should be about the safety of the weapons will become clear today when the province details how the Tasers are malfunctioning.

Mount Royal College criminologist Doug King said if the malfunctions are minor and don't have the potential to harm either the officer or the person being Tasered, then the rate of malfunction is irrelevant.

"Not all malfunctioning is bad or will lead to people Tasered being inappropriately harmed," he said.

But the president of the Alberta Civil Liberties Association said the results do raise the question about whether Tasers are safe, particularly in light of the fact that even newer models were found to not be operating properly.

"I don't know which is more frightening:that they're buying Tasers that didn't work from the beginning or Tasers sit on a shelf, get old and break down," Stephen Jenuth said.

The province announced in December it would be joining other provinces and the RCMP in having an independent company test model X-26 Tasers acquired prior to Jan. 1,2006,over concerns their voltage could be exceeding the manufacturer's specifications.

The government also sent more than 70 newer models to be examined.

In all, more than 400 from Alberta were tested and results showed 50 were not operating as they should.

Of those, 42 were older models and eight were newer.

The safety of Tasers has been under the microscope, especially following the high-profile case of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski who died at the Vancouver airport on Oct. 14, 2007, after he was hit by a stun gun five times. An inquiry is underway in Vancouver examining the incident.

In Alberta, a fatality inquiry has already been held into the death of Red Deer's Jason Doan, who was jolted three times by a Taser as RCMP officers tried to subdue him in Au-gust 2006. He died three weeks later in hospital after going into cardiac arrest following the Taser deployments.

The judge has yet to release his findings in the case.

Across the country, more than 25 people have died after they were Tasered.

Jenuth said it is essential the province implements ongoing testing for the stun guns--a move the Alberta government has already said it is examining-- to ensure Tasers remain working properly.

"If you're going to use them, you'd better test them,"he said, "especially with a better than one in 10 malfunction rate."

However, he commended the province for taking the additional step of having all the remaining Tasers tested.

Compared to other provinces, the percentage of malfunctioning Tasers from Alberta is about the same.

In B. C., eight Tasers used by police forces and corrections workers were found to be malfunctioning and will be destroyed or repaired.

A total of 82 stun guns were tested for a 10 per cent failure rate.

A similar rate was seen in Quebec where 52 model X-26 Tasers were tested and five were expected to be destroyed after malfunctioning.

Alberta had more of the devices tested than any other jurisdiction.

Those found not to be functioning properly will be returned and individual police services will decide whether to destroy the stun guns or return them to the manufacturer for repairs. If they are repaired, they will have to be retested before they can go back into service.

1 comment:

Excited-Delirium.com said...

People have been killed by police gun-fire when the taser application was "ineffective". One is left to wonder if the subject might have survived if they had used de-escalation techniques instead of relying on the taser.

An argument can be made, quite reasonably, that ineffective tasers are extremely dangerous because of the potential for escalation and subsequent death by police gun.

I've discussed this issue in some detail on my blog.