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Canadian commission: TASERs okay, but inconsistent use is "troubling"

TASER, CanadaNearly two years following Robert Dziekanski's death at Vancouver International Airport after being shot by Royal Canadian Police with a TASER, a commission investigating Canadian law enforcement's use of such "conducted energy weapons" supports their continued use, as long as this accompanies an overhaul of how and when these weapons are used. (Dziekanski's 2007 encounter with police can be viewed on YouTube.)

The Braidwood Study Commission, led by retired judge Thomas Braidwood, last month reported a "troubling lack of consistency" in how law enforcement uses TASERs and how well these weapons perform. (Canadian law enforcement in British Columbia, where Dziekanski, 40, was killed, is allowed to use only conducted energy weapons made by TASER International, Inc.)

TASERs, which represent the lion's share of all electronic-control devices used by law enforcement, work by either pressing the device's two (sometimes three) metal probes into a person's skin (causing intense pain in the surrounding muscles) or shooting these barbed probes so that they hook unto a person's clothing or skin and release electricity into the body, causing neuromuscular incapacitation. Generally, the victim feels as though "he is in a full-body charley horse," but does not lose consciousness, Steven Ashley, a former deputy sheriff in Livingston County, Mich., who retired from the force in 1989 and is now a law enforcement consultant, told Scientific American shortly after Dziekanski’s death. "They short-circuit the electrical signals in the body," he added.

The TASER X26, for example, emits 19 electrical pulses per second over five seconds, each pulse lasting approximately 100 microseconds (100 millionths of a second) with a peak output current of 3 amperes, according to TASER. However, a 2008 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation-commissioned analysis of 44 weapons found that four of them had peak currents at least 47 percent higher than 3 amps, according to that commission's report.

Although the officer jolted Dziekanski five times in total, medical examiners determined his death was not "directly caused by the Taser," the Toronto Star reported in December 2008.

Braidwood acknowledged a TASER's capacity, even in healthy adults, can "cause heart arrhythmia, which can lead to ventricular tachycardia and/or fibrillation, which if not treated immediately, can cause death."

However, Braidwood concluded that, generally, "our society is better off with these weapons in use than without them" and offered his support for their continued use as long as "significant changes" are made in when, and the way in which, the weapons are used.

Image ©iStockphoto.com/ SFB Photographics Inc.

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