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Europe police test stun guns

Advanced Taser M26
The Advanced Taser M26 can disable from 21 feet away  

By CNN's Graham Jones

LONDON, England (CNN) -- A decision by London's Metropolitan Police to consider using U.S-style 50,000-volt stun guns is part of a Europe-wide move towards use of the weapon by officers.

Scotland Yard announced that it hopes the "taser" gun, which temporarily paralyses its victim with an electrical shock, could be introduced by the end of the year.

The makers of the "Advanced Taser M26," said to be the Met's favoured choice, said publicity about the zap gun that works off eight AA batteries has sparked a wave of interest from police forces across Europe.

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Steve Tuttle, director of government affairs at Arizona, U.S., manufacturers Taser International, said that as well as an evaluation by the British Home Office, three field trials are taking place in Germany.

These are in the states of Berlin and North Rhine-Westphalia and Dusseldorf and would see the weapon being used by riot police or Special Duties Units (SEK -- Sondereinsatzkommandos).

"There are to be tests in Sweden at the beginning of the year 2002 and we already have equipment in Poland," said Tuttle. Tasers are are also bound for Finland.

"Its a European explosion," he says. "Since we have one of the major police forces in the world, the Metropolitan Police, interested in our product, it's hit the big league."

Key facts about the Taser  

How the Advanced Taser M26 works  (External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.)

Berlin and North Rhine-Westphalia confirmed their special forces are testing the taser.

A spokesman for Interior ministry in North Rhine-Westphalia said testing was going on to establish whether stun guns should be introduced and if so, whether to be used by wide range of police officers or just special units.

A Scotland Yard spokeswoman said its move was designed to provide officers with more non-lethal deterrents to tackle violent criminals and knife and machete-wielding attackers, some high on drugs.

Using compressed air, the Taser fires a two-pronged dart into the subject from up to 21 feet away, using a guided laser beam sight. The barbed darts can penetrate two inches of clothing.

They are attached to thin wires which then carry a short burst of 50,000 volt electricity which temporarily disables the central nervous system of the subject causing uncontrollable muscle contraction.

The spasms render the subject harmless as they almost always curl up into the foetal position, allowing police to apply handcuffs.

Non-lethal weapon
The Advanced Taser comes with optional yellow stripes to show it is non-lethal  

Scotland Yard's announcement of interest in stun guns came two weeks after a political row over Derek Bennett, 29, who was shot dead by armed police in Brixton, south London.

The parking attendant was shot six times and was later discovered to be carrying a gun-shaped cigarette lighter.

In Liverpool, northern England, officers shot dead a schizophrenic, Andrew Kernan, a fortnight ago after he was seen wielding a samurai sword.

A Scotland Yard spokeswoman said: "The Metropolitan Police would like to see the use of less lethal weapons such as the air taser, an electrical device, and is looking at the possibility at the moment."

She said Scotland Yard's thirty 2-4 officer armed response units would be armed with tasers by the end of the year if the plans are approved.

There is an option to extend their use to 6-8 officer territorial support groups but this worries human rights groups.

A spokesman for Amnesty called for the suspension of electric shock equipment throughout the world "until a proper investigation into the medical effects these devices have on those against whom they are used."

He said: "This device fires darts sharp enough to pierce a leather jacket -- if that were to hit you in the face it would cause an extremely debilitating injury.

"But the principal concern is the effect an electric shock could have on someone who already has a medical problem, such as a heart condition."

He said there was a worrying comparison was with CS gas, which when it was first used in Britain was said to be purely to defend the safety of public and police.

"But there was a gradual drift to the using it to deal with uncontrollable and difficult who may not be presenting an immediate threat of violence."

Britain's Police Complaints Authority also said it had "reservations."

Deputy chairman of the PCA, Ian Bynoe, said: "We would see stun guns being used when people are clearly armed with a knife or sword.

"But we have reservations about any proposals to issue them to officers involved in public order situations."

The first taser was introduced in 1994 but its big liftoff came in December 1999 when the "improved" 26 watt version was introduced.

The taser is now used by 850 U.S. police departments including Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. In Alberqueque and Sacramento it is issued to every single officer.

It is also used widely in Canada after being recommended by the Canadian government in 1999 and famously was used to stop a woman trying a double suicide from throwing her child off a bridge. The makers say the taser is safe and point to evidence from the University of Southern California Medical Centre which reported that a taser shot produces no lasting damage.

Tuttle says the worst injury they have had in eight years selling their products was when a Los Angeles drug addict with his trousers round his ankles fell backwards and hit his head on the bumper of a police car.

• Metropolitan Police
• Taser International

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