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Monday, April 16, 2012

Inadequate reporting on the actions that lead to taser tragedies

Food for thought from a Concerned Canadian:

Up to 721 taser-related deaths?!  As sad as that is, there has been some positive progress in awareness and responsibility on the West Coast.  The Vancouver Police Department has fewer officers than ever signing up for Taser training. Perhaps they've read the long list of risks & warnings on the volunteer waiver?  It is anecdotal, but in Vancouver rank & file officers are rarely seen carrying them now. 

The Edmonton death will be interesting to watch.  The police there are already saying they believe the man  was on a "substance".  Yet he'd been in custody, awaiting a bail hearing. How was he able to imbibe, if he was in a supposedly secure jail?  By mentioning a 'substance" to the media, it is very much like Dziekanski and many other such deaths.  Villify the victim.

It is true no one - outside of the investigators and the involved officers - knows exactly what happened.  There were security cameras, so hopefully there will be some visual evidence. 

Also the Edmonton reporters have failed to ask CRUCIAL questions such as:

How many stuns?
Duration of stuns?
Number of weapons used?
What mode of use- drive stun or probe mode?
Where on the body were the shocks delivered?

Edmonton police don’t seem to be on top of recent rulings in the U-S courts, where the Taser is now considered a ‘deadly weapon’.  The manufacturer lost a significant product liability case (Turner in Charlotte, NC), where the jury found Taser International failed to warn about the risk of chest shots for nearly fours years, after health risks were discovered by their own scientists.  This is a far cry from what the company crowed about in the beginning, when its senior managers said Tasers are “safe to use on any assailant.”   Police have got to ask themselves whether they want to risk using a potentially lethal weapon as a compliance tool. 

This is made all the worse because no one in law enforcement anywhere is measuring Tasers for ‘output variance’, yet the few tests that have been done have revealed that not all Tasers perform the same way.  Despite what the company claimed early on, the current being emitted from Tasers is NOT uniform.  This poses risks to both the public and the police. 

Even more concerning, there is still no independent standard of measurment developed for Conducted Energy Weapons; the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST) AND the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) are collaborating to create a scientifically valid test protocol.  As it stands now-- and it is difficult to fathom --  there is still NO electrical safety standard developed to measure invasive shocks. 

Concerned Canadian

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