Mission Statement - De-Spinning the Pro-Taser Propaganda

Yeah right, 'Excited Delirium' my ass...

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The primary purpose of this blog is to provide an outlet for my observations and analysis about tasers, taser "associated" deaths, and the behaviour exhibited by the management, employees and minions of Taser International. In general, everything is linked back to external sources, often via previous posts on the same topic, so that readers can fact-check to their heart's content. This blog was started in late-2007 when Canadians were enraged by the taser death of Robert Dziekanski and four others in a short three month period. The cocky attitude exhibited by the Taser International spokespuppet, and his preposterous proposal that Mr. Dziekanski coincidentally died of "excited delirium" at the time of his taser-death, led me to choose the blog name I did and provides my motivation. I have zero financial ties to this issue.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Any advertising is good advertising, eh?

Nice semi-advertising, light-weight, puff-piece on Taser International at The Economist. [LINK]

It's good free advertising.

Too bad about the comments: [LINK]

Even with the mention of the "controversy", this article is a bit of a puff-piece. Allow me to be specific.

"The device’s success has been electrifying. In the 15 years since it first came on the market..."

First, the M26 taser was introduced in 1999, and the X26 taser was introduced in 2003. The company touted the M26 as safe "because" the output waveform was high frequency and very low duty cycle. But the X26 taser waveform contains a DC pulse after the arc phase. This DC pulse repeats at 19 Hz and is thus more dangerous low frequency and is continuous 100% duty cycle. This makes the X26 taser significantly more dangerous than the older M26.

The monthly taser "associated" death rate shows a clear ramp up from just several per YEAR to a running average of SEVEN per MONTH starting in, guess when... ...2003. It's an extraordinary outbreak of taser associated deaths (often a.k.a. "excited delirium") starting coincident with the introduction of the X26 taser in 2003.

Mr. Smith is quoted as saying of the XREP "...it won’t kill you." Funny, they said the exact same thing about the X26 taser that has been firmly linked to numerous deaths, and suspected in hundreds more (it leaves no postmortem evidence). The US AMA concluded that tasers can kill, "directly or indirectly". The huge $4M Braidwood Inquiry in Canada (which heard from Taser International) concluded that tasers can kill, through a variety of mechanisms, even with healthy adults. The Maryland Attorney General recently issued a report that concluded that Taser International has "significantly" understated the risk of taser use.

The XREP contains a feature, the Hand Trap, that encourages the subject to grab the device and thereby be more-fully shocked via his hand. This intentional design feature directly contradicts the recent advice given by Taser International to "avoid aiming at the chest" to avoid trans cardiac paths. The arm (especially the left) being the worst case of such a path.

Regarding their new X3: They've never admitted that the X26 was a huge mistake, forgetting Fourier transforms and accidentally dropping two key safety features, but it's worth highlighting that the new X3 reportedly emits about 40% less electrical charge than the X26.

With respect to the [taser associated] death toll, standing at 450+, [primarily associated with] the X26 taser.

1) The device leaves little postmortem clues. None that anyone has identified as being reliable.
2) Taser International has sued Coroners that dare to find the taser as a cause. It's been described as a "chill" on free and honest findings.
3) They promote (*) "excited delirium" as an alternate explanation for the taser associated deaths.

[* Their own lawyer, Micheal Brave, has registered dozens of Internet domain names with the words "excited" and "delirium" in the URLs. He has then pointed these URLs to an outfit that is studying "in-custody" (strangely: only in-custody) deaths via "excited delirium".]

In spite of these efforts, a review of 150 autopsy reports found about one-third had mentioned the taser as a cause or contributor to the death. I don't see any reason why this one-third ratio cannot be extrapolated to the entire 450. And it can only be a low-ball ratio given the factors mentioned above.

We have several cases where healthy young men were tasered and died essentially immediately. Even the famous Dziekanski cases at Vancouver, an incident that rocked Canada to its foundation, was a death by "cardiac arrest" perfectly coincident with the application of the taser for 5 cycles and 31 seconds.

Prof Savard has noted a linear correlation in the real world risk of death with the length of the taser application. More taser duration, more risk of death. The NIJ noted the same unexplained trend.

I've notice the taser's 'Curious Temporal Asymmetry' in that the taser associated deaths occur at a vastly higher rate in the seconds to minutes AFTER the deployment than in the seconds to minutes after the taser is drawn but BEFORE it is fired. You essentially NEVER read about a person dropping dead at the verbal warning before the taser hit.

It's also been noted that the taser associated death rate PER DEPLOYMENT with the X26 taser appears to be much higher than with the older (safer?) M26. In Canada the complete data is being withheld, but overlapping data sets indicate that there was a period of several years (2004...) when the M26 was still being used by the RCMP THREE TIMES more often than the newer X26, but ALL deaths in Canada (where the information is available) were associated with the X26. My question is: Where's the data to support this simple sanity check of their claims of safety?

At this point, the taser debate newbies chime in with such nonsense as:

"It's better than being shot with a gun! Duh!"

In fact, in many jurisdictions the taser is used at a rate about one-hundred times (100x) higher than the historical rate of police gun fire. This is obviously a round number, but it's a good round number.

This issue is that, exactly as concluded by the Maryland Attorney General, Taser International has significantly understated the risks.

This raises an issue with procurement of these devices. What are they buying?

The vendor explicitly claims (and maintains the deception) that tasers are "non-lethal", to quote Mr. Smith "...it won’t kill you...". Sometimes they use the term "less-than-lethal", but one wag quipped that term should be corrected to "less-than-OR-EQUAL-TO-lethal".

But the UN, the US AMA, the ACLU, the Canadian RCMP, the various inquiries, and even some researchers that Taser International likes to selectively quote - they all acknowledge that tasers can kill.

Is it legal for government departments to procure items where there is no common understanding of the prime characteristic? This is not just basic contract law, it is very very dangerous territory and can have real-world negative impacts.

Other recent news is that the 9th Circuit Court with jurisdiction over the western states has just explicitly ruled that a perfectly-typical taser deployment was a violation of the subject's constitutional rights. They explicitly ruled that the taser needs to be moved to the very top of the "non-lethal" (sic) list. They characterize the taser as "the most intrusive form of force" that they have ever encountered.

Taser International has characterized this ruling as essentially insignificant. Their spokes-puppets are spreading lies about the record of the 9th Court (it's not "the most overturned" by any reasonable measure). Meanwhile, legal experts and scholars have universally concluded it is a very significant ruling.

Hopefully this ruling is the begining of the end for the overuse, misuse and abuse of tasers, all committed by officers that have been fully trained and certified by Taser International's vertically integrated propaganda and law enforcement infiltration scheme.

In front of a Canadian House of Commons committee (SECU), the other Smith brother testified that Taser International does not provide draft Taser Use Policy. Meanwhile a survey by ACLU-NC found that 95% of jurisdictions were using policy provided by Taser International.

In Canada, the CBC (public media) undertook a survey of tasers in field use. They found that about 10% were out of tolerance. Various jurisdictions across Canada followed up and they all found a failure rate of about 10-12%. One or more units were emitting MORE output than specified. Most were underpowered.

Underpowered tasers are characterized as "failing safe" by Taser International. In fact, during a stand-off, escalating a non-violent situation relying on an ineffective tasers can lead directly to a death by shooting when the taser fails to be effective. In theory, it could also lead to the death of the officer putting his faith in it. There's no such thing as failing safe with weapons. The stungun salesmen aren't always being completely honest.

I could, quite literally, go on all day.

My blog at Excited-Delirium (don't forget the dash) now has 1500 posts on the subject. Everything is linked back to sources to facilitate independent fact checking. My own ideas and opinions are based upon these facts. My interest in the subject is purely as an interested citizen of Canada - I was outraged by the death of Mr. Dziekanski and several others in quick succession in late-2007 which is when I started the blog.

My blog also links to other blogs providing reliable coverage of the taser-related news.

If you want balance, then head on over to the company's website. Don't miss their 'Cardiac Safety' webpage where their in-house expert compares a 5-second taser hit to being hit with a ping-pong (table tennis) ball. Seriously.

Happy New Year.

PS: Local storage of officer-captured video would potentially be much cheaper. Uploading several GB per day PER OFFICER to some remote underground lair seems like a ploy to convert an equipment purchase into a 'service" with associated monthly fees. The phrase 'better, faster, cheaper' seems to apply to the local storage option, and 'worse, slower, more dear' to their money-making scheme.

"...beam the recordings instantly back to the higher-ups at headquarters..."

That must be an optional extra. The existing system described a docking station back at base. "Beaming" the video "instantly" is not part of the basic feature set presently on offer. And it would obviously require 3G/4G hardware and MORE monthly fees.

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