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Wednesday, July 07, 2010

EDITORIAL: Taser International shooting itself in the foot

July 7, 2010
Victoria Times Colonist

Taser International's fight to suppress the Braidwood inquiry findings helps explain why the stun guns' implementation went so badly in Canada. The company is in denial. Taser International has been determined to battle -- through public relations and the courts -- any suggestion the devices can cause death. That is despite some 26 deaths in Canada after people have been tasered and more than 400 around the world. Despite an Amnesty International report that found Taser shocks caused or contributed to at least 50 deaths in the U.S. between 2001 and 2008. Despite the United Nations committee against torture finding that the stun guns could, in some cases, cause death.

And despite the company's advice to police forces last year not to taser people in the chest. The change "avoids the controversy about whether ECDs do or do not affect the human heart," it said, referring to electronic control devices.

The controversy appears to be largely in the company's mind. A cardiologist testified at the Braidwood inquiry that the stun guns could induce potentially fatal cardiac arrhythmia. (He also testified that when he reported his findings, Taser International asked him to reconsider his media statements and offered research funding.)

Taser International is arguing the Braidwood inquiry findings that the devices can cause death or serious injury failed to consider all the evidence. The company should have had a chance to review the inquiry report in advance, it maintains.

The evidence suggests it is wrong to insist the devices are completely safe. Taser International's refusal to acknowledge the risk has created trouble for the company and police forces that accepted the claims. Officers made decisions on Taser use based on the belief there was no risk. That led to inappropriate use, injuries, death and damage to respect for the police forces.

Acknowledging the reality would not mean an end to police Taser use. The devices remain valuable tools.

Any use of force by police involves risks. Tasers, used with proper guidelines, are a valuable alternative to firearms and a legitimate way to increase officer safety.

But Taser International's continued insistence on the devices' complete safety is wrong and destructive.

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