The world’s biggest maker of stun guns, Taser, has done a backflip and is now warning police forces to not aim the weapons at people’s chests. The company appears to be trying to make sure it can’t be sued if people die in future after being stunned by the weapons – the accuracy of the aim of police forces could become the issue, rather than the potency of the weapon itself.
Don’t aim stun guns at chest, police warned
Civil Liberties Australia has called on police forces throughout Australia to stop firing stun guns at people‘s chests.
“If stun gun probes hit people’s chests, it appears there’s an increased possibility the person will die,” CLA ‘s CEO, Bill Rowlings, said.
“Research has pointed out the danger, and the main manufacturer of stun guns has just issued a clear warning in new training guidelines.
“We call on all Australian police forces to immediately adopt the new manufacturer’s guidelines, and order their officers to not aim for the chest.”
CLA’s call follows instructions in a new training manual issued by Taser International late last month (issued 30 Sept 09).
For the first time the company has acknowledged that Tasers may be dangerous if the probes they fire strike close to the heart.
The new training bulletin posted on the Taser website instructs users to refrain from targeting the chest area to avoid impact on the heart.
“When possible, avoiding chest shots with electronic control devices (ECDs) avoids the controversy about whether ECDs do or do not affect the human heart,” it said.
Taser users instead should aim for the abdomen, legs or back.
The training manual says researchers have shown in tests on pigs that probes fired close to the heart can be fatal.
In Canada, where police use of Tasers has been highly contentious with more than two dozen deaths associated with the devices, there has been an instant reaction.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police will no longer fire stun guns at the chests of suspects…nor will other police forces across Canada, including those in Vancouver, Calgary and Winnipeg.
Stun guns fire sharp darts, with thin wires attached, which penetrate clothing or skin. A massive electric discharge then travels along the wires, totally incapacitating the subject and usually forcing them to fall heavily to the ground, with no control over their body movements.
CLA, Amnesty International and civil liberties groups throughout the world have said for years that stun guns are dangerous weapons.
They are not necessarily “non-lethal” weapons, and there must be much more stringent guidelines about their use, CLA says. Now the manufacturer appears to agree.
The company’s sudden new training advice is the first chink in a previously stonewall approach which simply denied that their Taser stun guns were ever responsible in any way for contributing to any death.
In Canada, this October is the second anniversary of the death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport, minutes after he was stunned five times by RCMP officers. The footage has been seen widely on TV news and YouTube.
His mother, Zofia Cisowski, has just filed a lawsuit in British Columbia Supreme Court against the Canada Border Services Agency, the airport and the four RCMP officers involved.
Separately in Canada, retired judge Thomas Braidwood is continuing to hear closing submissions during an inquiry into the death. Recently Judge Braidwood released a series of recommendations about the stun guns that included banning their use by police unless a suspect is physically harming someone or about to commit a criminal act.
Taser International said the new directive improves the safety of the weapons and enhances officers’ ability to defend themselves against post-event lawsuits.
Should a suspect die of sudden cardiac arrest after being hit by a Taser in the chest area, it would place the officer, the law enforcement agency, and Taser International in the “difficult situation of trying to ascertain what role, if any, the Taser ECD could have played,” said the company bulletin.
From the Taser International training guide, issued 30 Sept 09:
Conclusion regarding the potential for cardiac effects: Researchers have been able to demonstrate changes in heart rate and rhythm consistent with cardiac pacing and, in some cases, ventricular fibrillation (VF) in small swine, an arrhythmia that can be fatal without intervention, and have concluded that the a (sic) close distance between the ECD dart and the heart is the primary factor in determining whether an ECD will affect the heart. The threshold for VF has been estimated to be 12.6 times that for cardiac pacing. This risk is judged to be extremely low in field use. In order to increase the safety margin and since field experience shows that ECD discharges are effective when deployed to the large muscles of the back, abdomen, legs and pelvic triangle, users should aim for the back or (when practical) toward the mid lower abdomen and avoid intentionally targeting the chest area with probe applications to increase effectiveness and avoid the remote potential risk of cardiac affect.
Tasers in Australia should be tested, CLA says
The provincial Alberta government in Canada recently completed testing on all Tasers used by municipal forces in the province. In the second round of tests, 970 of the weapons were examined to see if they were meeting manufacturer’s specifications.
Of those, 88 – about 9% – were operating outside of specifications, said Alberta solicitor general spokeswoman Michelle Davio.
In the first round of testing, about 12 per cent of the weapons failed to operate as specified.
CLA has written to all Australian police forces asking whether any of them test their stun guns, as in Alberta.
From the responses so far, it appears no Australian police force carries out any tests that ensure the weapons are operating to manufacturer’s specifications.
Instead, they perform cursory daily tests which show the weapons are operating…but not to what specifications.