The police were initially reported to have said that Tasers may be used during the Bersih 4 rally this weekend, but they later said that the stun guns will not be used. What is clear, however, is that the tasers have come to Malaysia.
Here are four things that you should know of what to expect.
1. Range varies, depending on the cartridge inserted
The Taser X26 conducted energy weapon (or electric control device, as its manufacturer prefers to call it) that the police have acquired fires a pair of electrical probes from a cartridge. Electrical pulses would then pass through the thin wires to the target.
In order to be effective, both probes must hit the target, but its range is limited chiefly by the length of the wires.
According to the instruction manual for the X26, cartridges are available for lengths ranging from 15 to 35 feet (4.6 to 10.7 metres).
The electrical pulses are touted to be able to travel through clothing, including bullet-resistant materials. In most cases, the target would be conscious throughout the experience.
2. It does more than electrocute
When fired, the cartridges also release 20 to 30 small circular tags, which the instruction manual describes as being ‘confetti-like’.
These have the serial number of the cartridge printed on it ( photo below, left ), and is meant to identify the shooter - if records of whom the cartridge was issue to have been properly kept.
The X26 also records data about the weapon’s use, including the time, date and duration of the last 2,000 or so discharges of the weapon.
As a backup option, the X26 can also be used like a conventional stun baton by pressing the front of the weapon against a suspect. This can be done with or without a cartridge inserted.
This method of using the weapon causes pain, but unlike the probes fired from a distance, it does not cause muscle convulsions.
3. There have been safety concerns…
As of Feb 15, 2012, Amnesty International (AI) has tallied 500 Taser-related deaths in the United States and has called for law enforcement officers there to use Tasers only in situations where they would otherwise use firearms.
AI has also reported the use of stun guns as instruments of torture and interrogation.
Illicit drug use is a known risk-factor for death following exposure to stun guns, but not all those who died are known to have a history of substance abuse or health issues.
Possible causes of injuries include puncture wounds up to four millimetres deep due to the barbs used to attach the electrical probes to the target’s skin or clothing, minor burns at the site of the injury, and injury due to falls after being tasered.
Concerns had also been raised regarding possible needlestick injury during the removal of the barbs.
Medical literature also records a case study where a police officer suffered seizures after being accidentally shot in the back of the head and the upper back with a Taser. Upon regaining consciousness, he was confused and combative and had to be restrained by emergency medical personnel.
He has suffered psychological issues since, including difficulty concentrating, headaches, irritability and non-specific dizziness, according to the 2009 report.
Another case report in a 2012 medical journal article speaks of a case where the barbs of one Taser probe penetrating the skull of a 14-year old female who was running away from the police.
The barb did not reach the brain, but was embedded in the skull and required surgery to remove it.
The instruction manual for the X26 recommends targeting the chest area, but the company has reportedly amended this advice in the same year, suggesting that the shooter aims several inches lower.
Nevertheless, several law enforcement researchers have touted the relative safety of stun guns, including the Tasers.
“There is no conclusive medical evidence in the current body of research literature that indicates a high risk of serious injury or death to humans from the direct or indirect cardiovascular or metabolic effects of short-term CED (conducted energy devices) exposure in healthy, normal, non-stressed, non-intoxicated persons.
“Field experience with CED use indicates that short-term exposure is safe in the vast majority of cases. The risk of death in a CED-related use-of-force incident is less than 0.25 percent, and it is reasonable to conclude that CEDs do not cause or contribute to death in the large majority of those cases.
“Law enforcement need not refrain from using CEDs to place uncooperative or combative subjects in custody, provided the devices are used in accordance with accepted national guidelines and appropriate use-of-force policy,” said a panel formed by the US Department of Justice to review cases of CED-related deaths in a 2011 report.
Taser International itself touts that its products have ‘saved’ more than 152,000 lives worldwide by reducing the likelihood of death or serious injury on suspects and police officers.
A comparison by the US National Institute of Justice, which is the research arm of the Department of Justice, in 2009 also found that jurisdictions that use stun guns have seen reduction in the number of suspects and officers suffering injuries, including the number of injuries that require medical attention.
This is in comparison to similar jurisdictions that do not use such weapons.
4. Stun guns aren’t the only things the police bought
The US company Taser International is famous for its range of stun guns, including the X26, but the Malaysian police have bought other equipment from them as well.
According to the news reports, the police have also bought Axon-branded body cameras from Taser to help document police encounters with suspects, as well as the Evidence.com software to manage data gathered from the stun guns and cameras, among other data sources.
Deputy inspector-general of police Noor Rashid Ibrahim was quoted saying that the cameras would be used together with the stun guns.
“With the use of this camera, it acts like a ‘watchdog’ to ensure that police personnel always follow orders in the course of their duties.
“At the same time, it helps the Royal Malaysian Police reduce allegations about its conduct, thus making the criminal prosecution process more effective,” Harian Metro today quoted Noor Rashid as saying.