Super Tasers on the way…


Richard Moore

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Tasers: the next generation

Alarmed by recent incidents? Wait'll you see what the company is planning for 

December 02, 2007
The Taser is going wireless.

Until now, the electric-shock gun consisted of two barbed darts attached to 
wires that shoot out and strike the victim, immobilizing the person with 50,000 
volts of electricity, causing severe pain and intense muscle contraction.

But the wires could only extend a few metres. With the new "extended range 
electronic projectile," or XREP, the Taser has been turned into a kind of 
self-contained shotgun shell and can be fired, wire-free, from a standard 
shotgun, which police typically have in their arsenal already.

The first electrode hooks on to the target, the second electrode falls and makes
contact elsewhere on the body, completing the circuit and activating the shock. 
It can blast someone as far as 30 metres away, and, unlike the current stun 
guns, whose shock lasts five seconds, the XREP lasts 20 seconds, enough time to 
"take the offender into custody without risking injury to officers."

Taser International spokesperson Steve Tuttle says the XREP would be perfect in 
a standoff. "Here's someone you just don't want to get anywhere near," he says.

The XREP is one of two major new applications the Scottsdale, Ariz., company is 
preparing to field test, a prospect that makes Taser's critics anxious. They say
more study is needed of the old products, let alone the new.

Tasers are sparking all sorts of questions and concerns these days.

Like death after Tasing. Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski died after the RCMP 
Tased him when he'd become agitated after spending 10 hours inside the secure 
area at the Vancouver airport.

Or questionable Tasing. University of Florida student Andrew Meyer was Tased 
even though a handful of officers had already piled on top of him after he 
refused to stop asking former presidential candidate John Kerry questions at the
microphone. (He's the one who uttered that now infamous plea that has spawned 
bumper stickers and T-shirts: "Don't Tase me, bro!")

Tasers are now used by more than 11,000 law enforcement agencies in 44 
countries. There are more than 428,000 Tasers in the field, not to mention the 
tens of thousands of Tasers that have been sold to civilians.

And the innovations keep coming.

Besides the XREP, the company has developed a device meant to keep someone from 
approaching a certain area ­ a tactic called "area denial." "What if you could 
drop everyone in a given area to the ground with the simple push of a button?" 
asks a dramatic promotional video for the "Shockwave."

Taser has turned its weapon into a connected series of six darts arranged in an 
arc. The company says the device can be extended in a chain or stacked "like 
Lego," depending on the needs of the user.

So an army platoon, for instance, could use it to prevent unwanted people from 
approaching their camp, and not have to risk getting close to their targets.

Amnesty International, which has raised concerns for years, says the Shockwave 
poses serious risks of inappropriate use. When you target an entire area, or a 
crowd, you can't distinguish between the individuals you're trying to restrain, 
says Hilary Homes, a security and human rights campaigner for Amnesty 
International Canada.

"It targets everybody to the same intensity or effect," Homes says. "With 
materials like that, you worry about ...arbitrary and indiscriminate use."

Tuttle says the technology will be used for military applications, "not for a 
riot in Toronto."

Amnesty says that between 2001 and Sept. 30, 2007, there were more than 290 
deaths of individuals struck by police Tasers in North America, including 16 in 
Canada. It reports that only 25 of those electroshocked were armed, and none 
with firearms. It's calling for a moratorium on their use by police until a 
full, independent inquiry is held.

Homes says the new shotgun-style Taser doesn't pose any risks that aren't 
already there with the older weapon, except that "this allows more things to be 
done from a greater distance."

Mostly, it's the concern over the expansion of this technology even as there is 
heated debate over the devices' safety. "We'd prefer there weren't new 
variations until a study of the central technology was done," she says.

The safety concerns revolve around the growing number of deaths following 
Tasering and the increasing use of the term "excited delirium" by the company 
and other experts to explain the deaths, while denying the weapon any 

Excited delirium is a catchall phrase to describe symptoms of extreme stress, 
such as disorientation, profuse sweating, paranoia, and superhuman strength.

When someone is in such a condition ­ heart racing, blood pressure bursting, 
fight-or-flight hormones like adrenalin coursing through their body ­ wouldn't a
giant electrical jolt just make things worse?

"Show me the medical and mechanical reasons why it would make it worse when 
doctors are telling us, when someone is in that situation you should treat it as
a medical emergency and get that person to a medical trauma centre in the 
quickest way," Tuttle says. "With no Taser, he's impervious to pain, agitated, 
slippery with sweat ­ you won't get control in five seconds. Maybe you'll use 
batons, which won't work, pepper spray, which is much more stressful, a bean-bag
round, maybe deadly force because the situation spins out of control?"

Dr. David Evans, the Toronto regional supervising coroner for investigations, 
says that while there's no proof to say the shock could make things worse, "I 
agree potentially it could." But, he adds, "why aren't they dropping dead 

Evans says that it doesn't seem to make sense that the Taser is at fault in the 
deaths, because the deaths have not been instantaneous. "Normally you'd expect 
that if someone was going to die from electrocution related to electrical 
discharge, they'd die right there and then, within a few seconds," he says.

Tasering doesn't cause changes in the heart rhythm, or arrhythmia, which leads 
to death, he says.

It's a view that Ontario's deputy coroner, Dr. Jim Cairns, has used to help 
shape the Toronto Police Services Board policy toward allowing Toronto police to
use Tasers. Cairns also spoke at a Taser tactical conference in Chicago last 
July about excited delirium.

Taser points out that the weapon has not been implicated in any of the deaths in
Canada. "We're just repeating what the medical examiners are saying," says 
Tuttle. "The vast majority of those cases have been excited delirium or (drug) 

Even though "excited delirium" isn't an accepted medical diagnosis, it may be 
listed as a "contributory factor" in police-custody deaths, Evans says, but not 
as the primary cause.

Taser isn't the only company developing electrical stun weapons. Indiana-based 
Xtreme Alternative Defense Systems has, in a prototype phase, a futuristic 
weapon that sends out a streak of lightning, apparently by projecting an ionized
gas or ionizing the air itself with a laser, which conducts the electricity 
forward. The technology could potentially also be used to disable vehicles and, 
in the future, to help militaries neutralize incoming rocket propelled grenades.

Taser expects its new products to be available by mid-2008.

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