One-third of people shot by Taser need medical attention: probe

Canadian Broadcasting Centre | June 17, 2008

About one in three people shot with a Taser by the RCMP receive injuries that require medical attention, according to a joint investigation by CBC News/Radio-Canada and the Canadian Press.
The media outlets, which analyzed the Taser-use forms RCMP officers are required to fill out if they draw a stun gun, examined reports from 2002 to 2007. According to the data, 28 per cent, or 910 of the 3,226 people who were shot, had to go to a medical facility.

But a detailed examination of the forms revealed that many more people are injured, yet never see a doctor.

In three years worth of reports obtained under Access to Information legislation, people suffered injuries including burns, puncture wounds from the probes, and head wounds from falling. In many cases, however, the person was not taken for medical treatment.

More recent forms had the sections on injuries blacked out. The investigation suggests some of those incidents resulted in injuries that are not included in the 28 per cent figure.

For example, in one incident report, a person shot with a Taser suffered "burn marks from touch stun mode" but was not examined at a medical facility.

In another example, a person suffered "multiple skin burns where Taser came into contact with subject while fighting with police" but he was not taken to be examined.

RCMP Public Complaints Commissioner Paul Kennedy noted this failure in an interim report last fall on stun gun use by the force.

Dr. Paul Dorian, a cardiologist and a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, said police officers need to assume they may hurt someone when they use a Taser and treat all injuries seriously.

He conducted a study on pigs on the effects on the heart of Taser shocks and found multiple hits with a stun gun can cause heart stress.

"If there is injury and illness, as a physician, I would have to say those people, even if they are accused criminals, should be taken care of," he said.

Police association wants all officers to have Tasers

The Canadian Police Association stands by stun gun use. President Tony Cannavino said the association would like to see every police officer in Canada armed with a Taser and that there is enough evidence to show that Tasers save lives.

"They have to get the proper training, and also not only the proper training, there should be consistency across Canada about the training and the fact that they should also be requalified every two years."

The CBC investigation into Taser use has also found that RCMP officers are likely to fire their electronic stun guns multiple times during an altercation, despite a policy that warns it may pose health risks.

Kennedy is scheduled to release a highly anticipated final report on the use of stun guns by Mounties on Wednesday. He was to release it last week, but that was delayed until this Wednesday at the request of Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day.

The delay reportedly resulted from a last-minute call late Wednesday from the minister's office requesting a meeting with Kennedy.