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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Tasered - A Documentary

Watch it HERE.

CBC - Doc Zone

Ten years ago, the Taser® was hailed as the defining breakthrough in modern policing – a weapon that would allow police to subdue “even the largest and scariest people on the planet” without engaging in violent confrontation … a 21st century weapon that would temporarily incapacitate 100% of the time, but never kill.

‘Non-lethal’ declared the company’s promotional material in 1999. The company’s word was enough. Police departments embraced the new and promising technology.

A decade later, more than 400 people have died in North America ‘proximal to Taser use.’ That is raising doubts about those early claims. Human Rights groups clamor for more independent research into the weapon and national standards for its use. Newspaper editorials demand the kind of testing that they say was not done those ten years ago. Today the Taser is described as ‘less-lethal’ and capable of causing of injury.

There have been other setbacks for the Taser. In Canada, three public inquiries have been called into its use. One has already declared the Taser capable of causing serious injury and even death but, paradoxically, also declared society safer with the weapon in use than without it.

The other two inquiries will report in 2010. But will those inquiries make a difference? In the ten years since Tasers were introduced, the weapon has made its way into police departments in almost 45 countries – some 15,000 forces worldwide. Taser International, the weapon’s American manufacturer, boasts that it is the force option most used by police. Each and every day, some 500 people are tasered.

And its use is spreading. In 43 U.S. states, civilians can buy a Taser in retail stores or at sales parties in their own homes.

Tasered takes a comprehensive look at the Taser after ten years. The documentary examines the Taser from within a major Canadian metropolitan police department – the Calgary Police Service (CPS). They have been using Tasers for more than 4 years. And they’ve been keeping what are arguably among the most comprehensive ‘use of force’ statistics in North America since they adopted its use.

We tell the story through the CPS Use-of-Force Officer, Acting Inspector Chris Butler, an internationally recognized expert. Butler is a Master Taser® Instructor, certified by Taser International. He has even published on the topic. He is thoughtful and reasoned. He defends the Taser but is not blind to potential problems. Problems, he says, that can largely be avoided with proper training.

We follow CPS Recruit Class 185 as it undergoes that training. We are there as these soon-to-be officers learn to fire their Tasers – it takes less than an hour. We watch as they line up for what has become a rite of passage in many police forces: to be tasered voluntarily in the back just to experience how it feels.

We show how the probes leave the weapon and embed into a target’s skin. But the slow motion images reveal something else – the little-known, police accountability features built into the weapons: AFIDs – small confetti-like tags – that immediately identify who fired the weapon and the built-in electronic data port that shows how often.

That how often could be the difference between life and death says San Francisco cardiologist and electro-physiologist Dr. Zian Tseng. Tseng says any healthy person can die from even the minimum 5-second jolt of a conducted energy weapon if the shock is directed at the chest and occurs at the most vulnerable point in a heartbeat. But he cautions that prolonged shocking carries significant additional risk because it leads to a buildup of lactic acid that can cause heart failure.

Dr. Christine Hall begs to differ. ‘Excited Delirium’, not the Taser, is the likely explanation for death after tasering. Hall is Canada’s foremost expert on the condition, often cited by coroners and medical examiners to account for deaths for which there is no obvious cause. Many more doctors dismiss it as a convenient excuse for Taser International to explain deaths after tasering.

Dr. Michael Webster is among the skeptics. The police psychologist and former cop is critical of the company that manufactures the weapon. Webster says the company’s propaganda has led to the tasering of sick old men in their hospital beds, jaywalkers and drunks. We will show an abundance of examples of police tasering individuals for traffic violations, for disrespect or simply to save time while making an arrest.

And we visit a Taser Party where the weapons are sold like so much Tupperware. Leigh and Tim McCoy have been selling consumer Tasers in the Atlanta, Georgia area for almost two years now. Taser International says the C2 Model has the same power as the police X-26 with a few important differences. It’s designed to deliver a full 30-second jolt and is capable of being cycled for a full 25 minutes.

That worries Jared Feuer of Amnesty International, USA. Describing the Taser as a “potentially deadly device”, the human rights group’s spokesman also calls the weapon a “potentially perfect domestic abuse tool” because it leaves no marks or scarring. Amnesty International has been lobbying for national standards for Taser use and to stop the selling of the civilian version.

In 2009, a new generation of Taser weaponry® was introduced. The company claims that the devices are safer, pack less of a jolt and self-adjust the current to the lowest effective levels and that the probes diffuse more of the electricity on the skin, not in the muscle tissue.

As of yet no independent testing of these statements is planned.

Tasered is produced, directed and written by Lynn Raineault for CBC’s DOC ZONE. Executive Producers are Matt Gillespie and Joe Novak.

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