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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Mounties shelve older tasers

June 1, 2009
Robert Matas, Globe and Mail

The RCMP is following B.C.'s lead in pulling older tasers from their arsenals and taking 1,600 older-model tasers out of service across the country until each unit can be tested.

B.C. testing discovered that 80 per cent of 128 units of the M-26 model were unable to meet manufacturers' specifications.

Solicitor-General Rich Coleman, who was appointed as minister responsible for policing in the heat of the provincial election race, replacing John van Dongen, said he acted without hesitation when he heard the test results on Friday.

"Quite frankly, I'm not taking any risks," Mr. Coleman said yesterday in an interview at his constituency office.

"As soon as I heard there was a failure rate, I cancelled them. It's the right thing to do," he said.

Mr. Coleman said he directed the older M-26 units to be pulled immediately from service. Newer models continue to be used.

The RCMP, which serves as a municipal police force in several urban areas, agreed, he said.

The Mounties also decided over the weekend to pull the older tasers nationwide.

The use of tasers to subdue agitated people has been in the spotlight since Robert Dziekanski died in October, 2007, after he was shot five times with a taser at Vancouver airport.

The taser emits an electrical shock. The testing revealed that the units produced less electrical output than expected 90 per cent of the time.

"They were ineffective," Mr. Coleman said. "That means what happens is you have a tendency to shoot them more than once."

But he dismissed the suggestion that the test results may reflect on what happened to Mr. Dziekanski.

The taser used at the Vancouver airport was tested and functioned as it was intended, he said.

Tasers will not be re-introduced into policing until they meet the appropriate standards or are replaced, Mr. Coleman said.

RCMP Commissioner William Elliott, speaking to reporters, said the RCMP had not found the same problems in its own testing. But the Mounties still decided to pull the weapons from their arsenal across the country.

"We want to make sure that the weapon, in the odd case that it is resorted to, does what the officer expects it to," Mr. Elliott said.

"The public and our officers need to know that we take our responsibilities seriously and that we ensure that the devices and other weapons that [our officers] have perform appropriately."

The RCMP in B.C. will continue to use newer X-26 models.

"I think it is a tool, used properly, that saves lives - both police officers and community lives - and protects the public," Mr. Coleman said later during a news conference.

"But it is a question of training and use and calibration," he added.

Peter T. Holrann of Taser International said the company stands behind the quality and safety of its electronic control devices.

"It is not unusual for some high-tech electrical devices to experience a slight degradation in the electrical components over time, similar to what occurs in other electronic products," he said.

Test results revealing lower output show that the devices did not compromise medical safety, he added.

"Since there has been confusion over proper testing protocol and specification resulting in invalid test results in other provinces, under no circumstance should any of these devices be destroyed so as to preclude further analysis by other labs and Taser International Inc.," Mr. Holrann stated in a news release.

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