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Thursday, September 01, 2011


With regard to the nine Taser related deaths in the United States in August, including the rather mysterious circumstances of Nicholas Koscielniak, 27, who died on Tuesday morning in Lancaster, NY, it is time for America to decide if it wants its law enforcement to continue using a lethal weapon as a compliance tool. If so, ‘unintended consequences’ will continue to occur.

In the wake of nearly 30 deaths proximal to Conducted Energy Weapons (CEWs) in Canada, a Public Commission Inquiry was called. In May 2010, after two years of testimony and deliberation, Commissioner Thomas Braidwood recommended elevating Tasers in the use-of-force continuum, from intermediate (like batons + pepper spray) to a position just below the firearm, only to be used in used in the rarest of situations. Since then Canada has not had a single death; yet on average, there are two citizens dying every week in the United States, where the weapons are still being used to obtain compliance from argumentative or uncooperative citizens.

The Braidwood Inquiry concluded these "police tools" are not as safe as first advertised when they were first introduced in 1999. Commissioner Braidwood determined CEWs CAN kill, something even the manufacturer is admitting now.  If you study the fine print of its latest training manual and training waiver it is proof positive - for the first time, from the manufacturer itself - that the devices are deadly.

This low-key admission is a far cry from the early promotional material, where the manufacturer claimed their devices were "safe to use on any attacker". After listening to a lengthy list of experts, Braidwood determined there are life-threatening risks to vulnerable populations like seniors, children, pregnant women, as well as obese, underweight, distraught, drugged or mentally ill citizens. That would leave whom to zap? Healthy men between 15 and 55? A tally based on media reports can be found here on Truth-Not-Tasers, which now puts the death toll surrounding CEW use at 684 victims.  If this was a car part or a prescription drug rather than a "police tool", imagine the outcry.

One question the media and governments need to begin asking is: How many police agencies have use of force guidelines that are out-of-date? The manufacturer says users should avoid head, neck, chest and genital shots, not to mention repeated and prolonged stuns. Wouldn't this make the weapon tactically useless in dart/probe mode? How do you shoot a moving target in the legs with darts, especially from a distance? This should make it more of a ‘close quarters’ weapon, shouldn’t it? And, although shots to the back are now deemed ideal by Taser, the optics of shooting someone from behind suggests the police are cowardly or under-handed. An adversary who has his back to you isn’t dangerous, is he?

Police are struggling with a troubled and troubling technology, which they are recognizing now to be unreliable or, worse, becoming factors in fatal encounters.  Yet police are loath to give Tasers up OR admit they made a mistake by deploying them in the first place. There are a few forces giving up their Tasers, like in Southwest Ohio, where officers are using a different device called the Trident. If you check, you'll find that in the beginning, NO Police or Government Agency in either Canada or the U.S. ever verified the manufacturer's safety claims with independent testing; since then, measurement has been done for police in Canada, using resistance values suggested by the manufacturer.

Also, the Underwriters Lab, Canadian Standards Association and the International Electrotechnical Commission never tested Tasers.  Nor have these safety standard bodies certified the devices to ensure their relative safety.  Electrical products are not to be sold or used in Canada without proper certification.  And yet, the police continue to use them in defiance of the Canadian Electrical Safety Standards Act.  The UL, CSA and IEC have not measured Tasers for another reason: because they are INVASIVE.

The international safety standard (called the IEC 479), measures shocks ON the body, where skin resistance offers some protection from shocks.  BUT there is NO electrical safety standard for shocks IN the body, where resistance is non-existent and where salts, fluids and nerves allow for easier conductivity.  National standards are being developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the IEC, in hopes of creating a fairer, more rigorous test protocol, based on strong, independent science.

In the past decade, the characterization of CEWs went from 'NON lethal' to 'LESS lethal', once deaths began to occur; now, 'lethal' is being admitted by Braidwood, the U.S. Courts (in the Heston and Turner wrongful death suits) and even the manufacturer.  Lethal?!  Has human physiology changed in ten years?  Did the technology alter significantly?  It would seem the only visible difference is the company's opinion of its own products - and how to use them.  That should tell us all we need to know about what’s really happened - safety claims were made that are proving to be tragically exaggerated or false.

It is hard to fathom how such a blunder could happen, but it appears police and politicians were not told the whole truth about the inherent risks.  That is the nature of the $10-million judgment awarded to the Turner family in Charlotte, North Carolina in July. The jury believed Taser International failed to warn its customers for nearly four years, after it learned its devices do indeed cause cardiac arrest.  Was science ignored?  Was proper testing averted so a company could corner the market in the burgeoning 'non-lethal' field?  Did the makers do enough science needed to ensure the relative safety of these new, higher-powered 26-Watt weapons?  Some will argue the marketing was premature and the public were used as guinea pigs.

The manufacturer's only pre-deployment science was shocking one pig in 1996 to develop the wave-form and then zapping five dogs in 1999.  The raw data is 'missing' and the results were never published so you can forget any third-party peer-review science.  Even more disturbing is that these skimpy experiments were done using the 5-watt system, not the 26-watt system police ended up buying.

The integrity of the evaluation process for new technology was compromised in the U.S. a decade ago. No one verified Taser's medical and safety claims.  How could the joint non-lethal taskforce and the national institute of justice (NIJ) fail so fundamentally in their duties?  Why should anyone believe anything these same people say now in terms of what should be done to fix this problem? Perhaps a true third party with no vested interest - like a university - should be put in charge of proper measurement of all CEWs, based on the IEC-479 standard.

The time has come for true civil servants, unbiased scientists and medical experts AND the media to get the truth out there, before more lives are lost.

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