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Mounties 'shocking' the bad guys

Kent Driscoll
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (July 04/05) - The stun guns police officers pack have a powerful punch - they can send 50,000 volts through your body.

According to Yellowknife RCMP, they zapped combative suspects 17 times in 2004.

Cpl. Phil Guspodarchuk fires one of five Tasers in the Yellowknife RCMP arsenal. Note the blue arc: that's what will have you on your butt if the police need to calm your bad-acting ways. Officers used Tasers 17 times in 2004.

"It constricts the muscles; you can't move. It just hurts," said Sgt. John Milner. "You are able to think about what you're doing, but you can't do anything."

He knows from first-hand experience. Milner instructs officers on Taser use and has been shot with a Taser. He's also personally shot 80 per cent of the Yellowknife detachment with the device.

Each officer must receive one day of training to be able to use the weapon. Each of the pistol-shaped weapons is usually out with officers each day.

Milner is grim when discussing Tasers, and describes the device as "less lethal."

Yellowknife RCMP has five M-26 advanced Tasers, with a factory setting of 50,000 volts.

The Taser works in stun or probe modes. In probe mode, the gun shoots two, seven-milimetre darts about seven metres. The darts either catch flesh or clothing to complete the circuit. Each dart is single-fire and comes packed in a small plastic clip that snaps on the front of the Taser.

In stun mode, the officer simply touches you with the gun.

According to police procedures, Tasers are only supposed to be used in stun mode when officers can't calm a suspect down with words, or "soft-physical restraint," like joint locks.

The probes are on the same level of police response as tear gas and water cannon and are to be used with "combative" suspects.

Police are not the only people in the city with Tasers. In October 2003, a city teen was convicted of stunning a homeless man with a Taser set to 100,000 volts. He bought it on E-bay.

Stun guns have been in the spotlight in recent years after dozens of deaths throughout North America.

Tasers can be deadly

The latest death came June 30 in Surrey, B.C., where a 41-year-old man died after being Tasered by police.

Recently, a report from the B.C. Police Complaints Commissioner called for new regulations and training. He was asked to investigate the deaths of two men in 2003, after arrests that involved Tasers.

The weapon can be used in B.C. when a subject is resisting arrest "passively." The report calls for a higher standard, "active resistance."

Amnesty International reports that 70 people in the U.S. and Canada have died from Taser use since 2001. The numbers include some deaths that were ruled drug-related.

In a brochure on its product, the Taser company describes the weapon as "health insurance for everyday circumstances."

The company uses the Taser's likeness to a pistol as a selling point, calling it the "familiar pistol shape."

"The ergonomics... enable even novices to deploy the Taser accurately and with confidence," the brochure says.