CBC Investigates Tasers: Are They Really Safer than Tylenol?
Last year a man traveling from Poland was tasered in the Vancouver International airport and killed. The following week a man in a Nova Scotia Prison was killed from a taser hit. And just this last fall a teen mother holding a baby was tasered by RCMP officers in Vancouver. These are just a small fraction of the taser related events where the "safe" use of tasers malfunctioned and people either were seriously hurt or killed. The safety of tasers has been called into question multiple times, but the recent study on the actual voltage tasers emit reveals hard facts that could be used to testify against the excessive use of tasers as law-enforcement weapons.
Human rights group Amnesty International is renewing its call for a moratorium on Taser use after recent tests commissioned by CBC News and Radio-Canada found some of the stun guns deliver a higher level of electricity than the manufacturer promises.
For years, police forces across North America assured people that Tasers were safe.
Taser International has said its product is "safer than Tylenol."
The tests, conducted by the U.S.-based lab National Technical Systems, used 41 X26 model Tasers from seven police departments in that country. Each weapon was fired six times.
Of the 41 Tasers tested, four delivered significantly more current than Taser International says is possible. In those cases, the current was up to 50 per cent stronger than specified on the devices.
The abnormal X26 model Tasers were made before 2005, prompting some scientists to suggest police should stop using any older versions of the stun guns until they can be tested.
The human rights group has said it believes police forces around the world have relied too heavily on the manufacturer's safety claims. It wants to see more independent tests.
Arizona-based Taser International makes virtually all the stun guns in use today. They are intended to incapacitate people with an electric shock.
The RCMP says it pulled a random sample of some of the force's Tasers for testing, based on the results of the CBC News/Radio-Canada investigation.
A force communications official, Supt. Tim Cogan, informed CBC News late Thursday that preliminary test results showed the sample of Tasers operated within the manufacturer's specifications.
Pierre Savard, a biomedical engineer at the University of Montreal, designed the technical procedure for the CBC's testing, based on Taser International's specifications.
Savard said the cause of the increased current could be either due to faulty quality control during the stun guns' manufacturing or electrical components that deteriorate with age.
The findings are troubling, since police officers are trained to aim a Taser at the chest, said Savard, who studies heart rhythms and how they are affected by electrical stimulation.
"When you combine an increased current intensity with a dart that falls right over the heart for somebody who has cardiovascular disease or other conditions such as using drugs, for example, it can all add up to a fatal issue," Savard said.
This is Taser International's official statement given to the CBC in response to the research findings.
"TASER International has reviewed the testing results from the National Technology Systems study various TASER X26 electronic control devices as provided by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The results from the testing are generally consistent with the specifications provided by TASER International and which would be expected from such tests.
TASER acknowledges that there are four data that appear to be outliers — instances where current increased as resistance increased, which would not be expected based on the laws of physics. TASER International intends to contact NTS to suggest that the tests be repeated to verify the results.
TASER International appreciates the continued interest in TASER technology, and sincerely hope that the CBC report will focus on the proven injury reductions law enforcement experience with this technology, rather than using engineering minutiae to confuse the viewer and create a false sense of controversy over a test that confirms the output of TASER X26's are consistent, and well below acceptable safety thresholds."
This study's findings could prove to change the legislation on laser guns not only in Canada but anywhere where taser guns are used in law enforcement.