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Friday, April 24, 2009

Taser tests lead Edmonton police to pull 50 weapons from service

April 24, 2009
By Florence Loyie and Trish Audette, The Edmonton Journal

Fifty Tasers are being pulled off Alberta police officers' tool belts after tests of the stun guns showed they were malfunctioning.

But Solicitor General Fred Lindsay said he has no intention of scrapping the controversial weapons altogether.

"The thing that would have affected my decision on whether we pull them all off or not is whether there's a clear indication that the malfunctioning ... would have created a safety hazard," he said Thursday. "I don't see any evidence to support that."

Following media reports old-model X-26 Tasers used in Canada were firing at higher-than-expected voltages, Lindsay ordered 485 Tasers from across Alberta sent to an independent lab in Kanata, Ont. Of those, 42 purchased prior to Jan. 1, 2006, plus eight newer Tasers, did not meet specifications set out by the manufacturer. "Regardless of what criteria they didn't meet, we were going to pull them out of service," Lindsay said.

Edmonton police sent 175 Tasers for testing, and 15 had voltages either too high or too low, according to specifications. Still, the results do not necessarily mean those Tasers are a safety concern, said Const. Joe Tassone, in charge of Taser training with the department's officer training unit.

Even so, the Edmonton Police Service does not want to put weapons not operating within the manufacturer's specifications back into action, particularly if they are firing too low because that could potentially put the lives of civilians and police officers at risk.

The tests were the first independent gauge of the weapons ever done by Alberta's police services -- until now, the province has relied on the guarantees of Taser International.

More than half of all Tasers used by the province's police services still need to be tested.

Lindsay said he is developing criteria to have the weapons tested more often.

Edmonton lawyer Tom Engel, chairman of the Criminal Trial Lawyers Association's policing committee, said his concern with the test results is they suggest about 10 per cent of the 745 Tasers not tested are also likely not functioning properly. "It raises flags," Engel said.

Engel added the results point to a need for regular testing of all Tasers to ensure they are working properly. But he believes the Taser is a viable police tool, if used within the parameters of the Criminal Code. "It is an alternative to lethal force. The problem, of course, is these Tasers are misused all the time and you have to get a grip on that," he said.

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