Mission Statement - De-Spinning the Pro-Taser Propaganda

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


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.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Questions for Thomas P. Smith, Chairman of Taser

Taser chairman is coming to T.O. on 17 January 2008 (details in previous post, see below after you read this...)

Welcome to Toronto Mr. Smith.

Did you have a nice flight? No problems at the airport? No delays at Immigration? You weren't tasered at any point along the way?

Let's play 20 Questions with Mr. Smith:

1) Given the obvious controversy and simmering public outrage surrounding your firm's products, do you think that the Canadian public will not notice and not take offense to you having such a cozy relationship with (for example) the Toronto Police? So much so that you're standing here, now, in their building, reportedly 'invited' by them, presumably for damage control. You don't think that this far-too-friendly relationship on blatant display here tonight is perhaps just a wee bit too bleedingly-obvious? I mean, come on boys... Get a room!

2) On the same subject: I notice that this meeting is scheduled from 5 to 7 pm. 7pm seems quite an early closure time for such an important topic. Is that because you're planning to have a lovely (expensive) dinner out tonight, with hungry and thirsty police officials (local or otherwise), after this meeting closes at 7PM, or at any other point during your visit to Canada? If so, who will be paying the tab?

Apologies in advance if this embarrassing question forces you to cancel your dinner plans. That's actually the purpose.

3) Your firm ravaged Mr. Ruggieri and his report, primarily with an outrageous ad hominem attack. The crux of your technical defence seems to hang on the stated high frequency ("50kHz") of the M26 taser. However, an examination of the M26 waveform indicates that there exists a significant low frequency component (11 - 25 Hz) in the spectrum distribution of the current.

The X26 is apparently much worse. In fact, the X26 waveform could most fairly be described as a DC pulse, with a short burst of 100kHz noise on the leading edge, all repeating at 19Hz. Putting it plain and simple, the X26 waveform is 19 Hz. In the event that you disagree with this simple description, Taser Director Mark Kroll described the X26 waveform as "19Hz" in his recent article in IEEE Spectrum (December 2007). On the face of it, this fact seems to vindicate Mr. Ruggieri's basic point (but on the X26, if not on the M26).

So my question is this. If the inherent calculated safety margin of the taser waveform is roughly 15:1 (as I've seen stated), and (especially in the case of the X26) you're forced to walk away from the 100:1 safety advantage that Taser claimed for the 'high frequency' (sic) waveform, then what inherent safety margin remains?

By 'inherent', I mean other than the random placement of the two barbs (which is literally, luck of the draw)?

4) If the 'Advanced' M26 waveform is safer than the X26 waveform, then why is the X26 still your largest seller? Why haven't you stopped its sale, and even recalled it?

5) The X26 repeats the shock waveform 19 times per second. The 'Advanced' M26 is, inexplicably, much less accurately controlled and repetition rate varies between 11 and 25 cycles per second. Taser has recommended a five-second application. In either case, this represents approximately one-hundred shocks per firing. Does your calculated inherent safety margin include the fact that you're repeating the risk one hundred times per deployment cycle? Did you ever learn in Grade 5 that 'unlikely' become 'certainty' if you keep trying.

6) Why do your designers feel it is necessary to have the X26 waveform repeat at 19 cycles per second? Given that the waveform is more than perfectly capable of 'locking up' the victim with each cycle, why not repeat the shock perhaps just 2 or 3 times per second? Is the victim going to have time to fight back in one-third of a second?

7) The 'Maurice Cunningham' incident: He was tasered six times, including one application that was a continuous two minutes and forty-nine seconds in duration. He died, and his death was attributed to the tasering incident. How can you possibly justify designing the taser so that it permits continuous shocking for nearly three minutes? I calculate that he was shocked more than 3000 times! If it is dangerous to use the taser repeatedly (as Taser has been forced to admit), then why didn't you include a simple timer circuit to avoid this misuse and risk? Did Taser over-estimate the safety margin and therefore decide to allow unlimited duration? In hindsight, was this a huge mistake? Was this lack of foresight due to negligent design, over-confidence and the lack of a risk (to victim) management process?

8) You've proudly claimed that the taser is deployed 620 times per day. This is 226,300 times per year. It is probably safe to assume that most of these deployments occur in the USA. If the taser was really strictly being used as a non-lethal, sorry... 'less-lethal', alternative to the policeman's sidearm (gun), then don't these numbers seem just 'a wee bit' high? 'A wee bit' being roughly two orders of magnitude (~100:1)?

Were the police in the USA really shooting 226,300 of their own citizens per year before the taser came along 'to make things safer'? Did the RCMP normally shoot 500 Canadians per year before they got their hands on the taser? The Ottawa city police mentioned "10 times per day" - possibly a sick joke. In fact, since the taser is not universally carried by all police, these ludicrous numbers are very very conservative. A more complete analysis can only be much worse.

Do you have any comment on this clear evidence of a very high rate of illegal misuse of the taser as a pain-compliance device? Would it affect your sales too much if you issued a sternly-worded Training Bulletin to remind the users of the appropriate and legal applications of a taser?

Do you think that the training (which is designed and/or approved by Taser) has contributed to the reprehensible behaviour of some police officers as so clearly documented by leaked footage?

9) "TASER International asserts that the taser is safe for use on anyone weighing 60 pounds or more." In other words, children. Are you insane?

10) In the wake of the Dziekanski killing at Vancouver Airport, the RCMP watchdog Kennedy issued a stern report making clear recommendations. Have you read the report? Are you prepared to endorse it? If not, why not?

11) Taser won a product liability lawsuit based on the strange argument, "...Taser argued that it did not know that the muscle contractions produced by the weapon were strong enough to cause a fracture." So, is there anything else about your products that you don't know? Are the public part of your beta-testing program?

12) You've proudly stated that many hundreds of thousands of people have been tasered as part of their training, or as demonstrations. From what I have seen, these so-called tests appear to done in a manner that does not reflect actual street deployments of the X26 or M26. In other words: FAKE. The demonstrations are normally done in 'drive mode' where the shock is applied across a small area well away from the chest. Or perhaps with the wires connected from belt buckle to ankle. Neither of these placements reflect the design or usage of the X26 (or M26) where the barbs are fired in the general direction of the victim's chest (where in normal people, you'll find something called a 'heart').

To address this point. Would you be willing to ensure that all future training and public demonstrations of the taser include manually placing the barbs into the chest in the exact locations determined to be least safe, pushed all the way in, and the X26 taser triggered continuously for approximately 2 minutes and 49 seconds? Would you be willing to make this standard policy? If not, why not?

13) Your design team should have prepared a complete tolerance analysis of the end-to-end system (including the victim, and the variations between victims) for each taser model. If such an analysis is done properly, then it would provide a reasonably accurate indication of the expected risks with a clear numerical result (a range with 95% confidence) for each risk item. The result of such analysis is never 'no risk'; that answer simply indicates that you've failed to conduct the study. Everything has a risk, and a product such as a taser should be accompanied with clear information describing that risk. It is clearly not acceptable to fail to provide such information in a case like this. Can you produce this documentation? If you can't, why not?

14) There are news stories where police claim that their tasers have failed. There are other news stories that mention that the quality control at Taser is not up to accepted standards.

Is Taser ISO-9000 certified? Has Taser achieved CMMI certification for its design and manufacturing processes and procedures? Given the apparent connection to life-or-death issues, don't you think it would be wise to achieve the sort of certifications that are common-place for less critical products, such as televisions?

15) Do the X26 and M26 tasers have circuits to control the peak current in the event that the victim is more like 75 ohms instead of the assumed 400 ohms? If not, why not? Does this failure to include current limits erode your assumed safety factor for some victims in some circumstances?

16) There was a graph in the recent IEEE Spectum article that showed that the taser waveform was just above the pain threshold, well below the point where muscles are locked-up, far below the point where it would interfere with breathing, and far far below where it might cause the heart to act erratically.

But we know that the taser causes extreme pain, that it actually does lock-up muscles as intended, and now Taser has admitted that it may impair breathing. It seems to be creeping up closer and closer to the line marked "Causes heart to behave erratically". So my question is as follows: Why is this chart, presumably prepared by Kroll and/or Taser, so clearly misleading with respect to the placement of the taser data point?

17) Also, why does Taser maintain that a taser death would have to be immediate, when the chart, presumably prepared by Kroll and/or Taser, uses the descriptive phrase 'behave erratically'. Obviously this description would admit that prediction of the sequence of events, possibly leading to death, are unpredictable. So why does Taser continue to hold the position that a taser-death must be immediate when their own chart admits the opposite?

18) What about the independent report by Valentino et al that clearly demonstrated that cardiac rhythm capture is dependent on discharge vector. Other independent reports are finding similar issues. Why do independent studies tend to find more problems than studies where Taser provided the funding? Is the taser expensive in part because of the liability insurance that Taser must pay for each unit sold?

19) Are you familiar with section 269.1 of the Canadian Criminal Code? Do you know that (for example) any demos of tasers in Canada would be a perfectly-clear violation of that section (unless the victim held down the trigger by himself). Did you do any demos in Canada? How about tonight? Were any police present? Was anyone arrested for violating 269.1? Are you planning to stay in Canada for the next 14 years?

269.1: "...every person acting...with the consent or acquiescence of a [Peace Officer*], who inflicts [severe pain] on any other person is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years."

(*And if the Peace Officer isn't present, then what are you doing possessing, and using, a Prohibited or Restricted Weapon?)

20) One last question for everyone present: Do you think that lawful 'force' is a noun, or a verb?


Day 1 of a new beginning! said...

One question.
What killed the calf in Spokane Wa. The only weapon used against this calf was a Taser...and it died! Why?

Anonymous said...

Hey, thanks for dropping by. I think you're the very first to actually leave a comment [in a long time]. Please pass the URL around so that others can drop by too.

As far as the unfortunate dead calf, the death was obviously caused by 'Excited Delirium'. If you think about it, it fits perfectly with the circumstances...


Because both the poor unfortunate tasered calf, and the oft-proposed 'Excited Delirium' explanation, contain significant amounts of bullshit.