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Portland Plans To Give Away Its Old Tasers. Are They Safe?

Taser International stopped manufacturing the X26 three years ago. The company, which changed its name to Axon in March, never recalled the X26 and disputes that it is less safe than other models.

Taser International stopped manufacturing the X26 three years ago. The company, which changed its name to Axon in March, never recalled the X26 and disputes that it is less safe than other models.

Paul Connors

The Portland Police Bureau is looking to get rid of close to 700 outdated Tasers, and wants permission from the City Council to donate some of the stun guns to other law enforcement agencies.

The X26 model Tasers the Police Bureau wants to give away were once the company’s most popular model. Critics say they are less safe than newer models and more likely to interfere with a person’s heart rhythm and possibly trigger cardiac arrest.

Taser stopped manufacturing the X26 three years ago. The company, which changed its name to Axon in March, never recalled the X26 and disputes that it is less safe than other models.

 “It’s a 14-year-old weapon design. They’re analog. We’ve developed much better technology to make them more efficient,” Steve Tuttle, a spokesman for Axon.

 The Portland Police Bureau started phasing out the X26 and switching over to a newer model two years ago.

 The PPB says it is hopes to donate about 120 of the older devices to other law enforcement agencies that still use them, including the Newberg-Dundee Police Department, Yamhill County, Wheeler County and Rockaway Beach.

 “We’re very grateful that Portland is repurposing them to us,” said Capt. Jeff Kosmicki with the Newberg-Dundee Police Department.  

Kosmicki says the department currently equips all its officers with the X26, and that getting the leftovers from Portland will save him from having to make a costly upgrade to the newer models.

“Once I realized that they were getting rid of these and acquiring new Tasers, I asked if we could get enough for every single police officer in Yamhill County. They’re going to give us 80 or 90,” he said.

A number of published research papers and a recent investigative reporting series by Reuters have raised questions about the safety of the X26. Some scientists have long reported that Tasers can cause “cardiac capture” or elevated heart rates in experiments on pigs.

In 2009, Axon, known then as Taser International, advised law enforcement agencies to avoid hitting suspects in the chest.

In a 2014 study, a cardiologist at the Indiana School of Medicine reviewed eight cases in which people had heart attacks that followed Taser X26 applications. The cardiologist concluded that Tasers can cause heart attacks.

Scientists affiliated with Taser International disputed the study’s conclusions. The company has pointed to other factors, including drug use, pre-existing heart conditions and difficulty breathing as more likely explanations for deaths that have been linked to their product.

The 2017 series by reporters at Reuters found that medical examiners and coroners have cited Taser stun-guns as a cause or contributor in more than 150 deaths nationwide. Reuters also tallied 128 cases of wrongful death lawsuits filed against Taser or Axon.

Reuters asserted that the X26 poses a greater risk of triggering heart problems than the company’s other models, because its barbs can deliver a significantly higher maximum charge — 125 microcolumbs per pulse. The Reuters report says the company deliberately reduced the maximum charge delivered by newer models to make them safer.

Axon spokesman Steve Tuttle confirmed that the X26 model delivers a maximum charge of 125 microcolumbs, while newer models deliver a much smaller 66 microcolumbs, as Reuters reported. But he denied that the older models are unsafe.

“Axon disagrees that X26 poses a safety risk of cardiac arrest,” he said.

The Portland Police Bureau also contests the suggestion that the older model of Taser it wants to donate to other agencies is less safe.  

“It was discontinued because Axon developed improved models, which are necessarily more advanced. We have zero safety concerns about the electricity of a CEW,” wrote Erik Daniels, a certified Taser trainer with the Portland Police Bureau.

In defense of the device’s safety, Daniels cited an excerpt from a newsletter put out by the Force Science Institute.

The excerpt quotes Dr. Mark Kroll, an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota.

“Electricity is not like poison,” Kroll stressed. “It does not ‘build up’ in the human body by extended or repeated exposure, and it does not combine with other stressors to produce an enhanced effect. So a cumulative number of seconds of CEW exposure does not increase the risk of serious injury or death.

“If an electrical current is strong enough to electrocute it will do so in and of itself in one to five seconds,” he said. “Prolonged delivery of weaker currents has essentially no effect. The number of trigger pulls of a CEW may seem alarming to a judge or jury that doesn’t understand electricity but scientifically it’s irrelevant in terms of life-threatening danger.”

Kroll, the expert the Portland Police cite, has served on the board of directors of Axon since 2005 and is a member of the committee that handles litigation against the company.  

His advice runs counter to the Portland Police Bureau’s own directives regarding electronic control weapons, adopted after the U.S. Department of Justice found the agency had a pattern of using them excessively and applying multiple shocks unnecessarily.

The Bureau’s directives instruct officers to avoid using more than three applications of a stun gun against the same individual and to wait a “reasonable amount of time” plus warn a suspect before issuing more than one application of charge.

Kosmicki, with the Newberg-Dundee Police Department, said his agency also had no concerns about the safety record of the X26 model stun gun.

“I don’t believe that the Tasers are killing people,” he said. “Based on someone who’s used them, it results in fewer injuries to the officer or the suspect.”

The Portland Police Bureau has said it may also try to sell its leftover X26 Tasers back to the manufacturer, but the company said it no longer runs a buy-back program.

The Portland City Council is set to vote Wednesday on whether to authorize the donation of its surplus stun guns.

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