Canadian police can’t yet get their hands on new, safer and more effective models of Tasers that have been approved for use stateside for years.
And even when they are approved for use in Canada, Hamilton police say they likely won't be able to afford them.
The new models are touted as safer for officers and targets and better at disabling threats. Unlike current models, they can shoot more than one cartridge and can shut off after a short 5-second burst.
'Most departments [in the U.S.] are upgrading to smart weapons. Just like a cell phone, you’ve got to adapt.' - Steve Tuttle, Taser spokesman
The police services board voted on Monday to approach city council and ask for nearly $1 million to buy 150 X26 model Tasers and hire two full-time trainers to go with them, after the province approved Taser use for all frontline officers.
The X26 was Taser’s “flagship model” for nearly a decade, says spokesperson Steve Tuttle. But comparing that model to its two newer models — the X26p and the X2 — is like comparing a 2003 flip phone and an iPhone 5, he says.
“Most departments [in the U.S.] are upgrading to smart weapons,” he told CBC Hamilton. “Just like a cell phone, you’ve got to adapt.”
But in Canada, that’s not an option yet. Tuttle says Taser is hoping to get a green light from the federal government to start shipping them over the border come October.
'The better way to go'
The X2 is the company’s newest model. Its biggest add-on feature is that it can be fired twice without reloading — meaning a police officer can fire a second time if the first shot misses, or shock multiple targets.
It also has a double laser sight for increased accuracy, “trilogy logs” that give more in-depth information for forensics or SIU investigations, self-diagnostics and automatic software upgrades, and a higher quality HD camera attachment.
For all those reasons, the X2 “is a better way to go,” Tuttle said.
The older X26 model that Hamilton police are ordering will push an electrical current until its battery dies. “If you hold your finger down on the X26, it will keep firing,” said Andy Adler, a professor of biomedical engineering from Carleton University. That means a steady charge flows into someone that could last for “about a minute,” he says.
Adler has performed extensive testing on thousands of X26 model Tasers. He says tests have shown that in “unstressed volunteers,” a five-second burst from a Taser is “pretty safe.”
But when people have drugs or alcohol in their systems or heart problems, that changes, he says – and a hefty percentage of people that police encounter no doubt slot into one of those categories.
Plans to upgrade in the 'next several years'
Hamilton police have carried Tasers since 2004. Currently, 236 officers use them – mostly supervisors and tactical teams. Most use the X26 model, through some emergency response units carry the outdated M26 model, says Sgt. Jon Alsbergas, Hamilton police’s use of force supervisor and training analyst.
He says the police service plans to go with the X26 model even if the newer models are approved for use in Canada next month because of “financial constraints” and costs associated with “bringing instructors up to speed.”
“The plan would be to upgrade within the next several years,” Alsbergas said. “The costs are significantly more.”
Alsbergas is a member of the Ontario Police College advisory committee on Taser use, and says he hadn't heard any information on new models of Tasers being approved for use in Canada in October.
The X26 model Hamilton police service is purchasing costs $1,065, he says. The upgraded X26p model is slightly more expensive at $1,071.90 – but the warranty costs $100 more, and magazines cost almost two times as much, he says.
The newest X2 model costs $1,324, with a warranty that is $150 more expensive than the X26, and magazines that cost 33 per cent more, he says. When ordering 150 Tasers, those costs can quickly add up, he added.
Taser does have a trade-in program for upgrades, but Alsbergas says it would be years before Hamilton police could avail themselves of the program.
Proposed costs for the expansion of CEWs include:
- Equipment costs (150 X26 Tasers, holsters, cartridges, conductive targets): $324,611
- Two training instructors: $226,449 including benefits
- Instructor courses (Taser Master and use of force): $11,800
- Replacing officers who are receiving Taser training: $429,601
Money has been an issue between city council and the police service this year. In April, the police services board finalized a 3.52-per cent increase over the previous year’s budget after it was reduced three times at city council’s request.
City council then voted to ask the province for more control over management of the police service.
In Hamilton, Tasers were involved in 49 incidents in 2012, up from 22 incidents the year before.