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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Hundreds of faulty RCMP Tasers destroyed or pulled

April 18, 2010
The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — The RCMP has destroyed or retired hundreds of Tasers after laboratory tests found some Mountie stun guns were not performing properly.

Internal RCMP notes obtained by The Canadian Press say 15 per cent of the older M26 model Tasers and one per cent of the newer X26 models did not test within technical tolerances.

Draft statistics provided by the force say that as of December, 149 M26s and 60 X26s from across the country had not performed within specifications.

The Tasers that did not meet tolerances "were destroyed and replaced by divisions," says a December briefing note to RCMP Commissioner William Elliott, released under the Access to Information Act.

In addition, the draft figures indicate several RCMP divisions had either replaced or planned to retire more than 200 other M26 stun guns.

The RCMP declined to provide additional updates, saying the force would publish the final test results this spring.

It's "inherently problematic" that the RCMP, which has been using Tasers for more than eight years, didn't test the devices before putting them in the field, said Rob Holmes, president of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.

"It should have been done from the get-go."

Serious questions of stun gun reliability first arose in December 2008 when a scientific review commissioned by the CBC and French-language Radio-Canada concluded that four out of 41 guns tested actually discharged more electrical current than Taser International says is possible.

In some of the test firings the police weapons delivered 50 per cent more current.

Last June, Elliott ordered all Tasers in the RCMP inventory be tested. A short time earlier, he directed all divisions to pull their M26s from service until testing could confirm they were operating within specifications.

The RCMP's testing protocol was developed in January 2009 by MPB Technologies, an independent electronics lab, with input from the government-run Canadian Police Research Centre, Carleton University scientists and stun gun manufacturer Taser International.

The RCMP has long maintained the Taser contributes to officer and public safety when properly used in appropriate situations by well-trained officers.

Critics say police use the powerful devices to make unco-operative people comply with orders even when they don't pose a threat to officers or bystanders.

The force is working on an overhaul of its Taser policy following recommendations from inquiries prompted by the death of air passenger Robert Dziekanski.

Dziekanski, en route to British Columbia from Poland to join his mother, Zofia Cisowski, died in October 2007 after being hit with a Mountie Taser at the Vancouver airport.

A video of the confrontation filmed by a fellow passenger, in which an agitated and disoriented Dziekanski is zapped repeatedly, was seen by millions of people -- stirring public outrage and widespread re-examination of stun gun use.

The RCMP recently apologized to Cisowski and agreed to a financial settlement.

The RCMP's Taser destruction and retirement program represents a shift towards the newer-model stun gun, seen as more technically reliable than the older version.

As of mid-March there were 1,114 M26 Tasers in use by the RCMP, down from 1,623 when testing began, and 2,262 X26 Tasers in the Mountie inventory, up from 1,561.

Former judge Thomas Braidwood, who led a B.C. public inquiry on Taser use, said while the guns can kill or gravely injure people, they can also be a valuable option for officers.

In an initial report, Braidwood said police should use a Taser only when someone is causing harm to another or there's a possibility they will imminently do so. He also recommended that stun guns be tested periodically.

Alberta has declared that Tasers used in the province be tested annually and that any new ones be scrutinized before being put into service.

"As a result of the guidelines issued by B.C. and Alberta, a long-term strategy will have to be developed for ongoing testing," says the RCMP briefing note.

Taser International did not respond to a request for comment on the RCMP-commissioned lab tests.

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