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The Latest TASER Technology

Written by Jim Weiss

In late 2001, about 20 departments in the United States, including San Diego, Sacramento, Albuquerque and Reno, had the Advanced TASER M26 for every patrol officer. Today, more than 200 departments of all sizes are fully deployed. And over 2500 law enforcement agencies are using the M26 in at least some level of deployment.

Now there is a new kid on the block being produced by TASER International. At the TASER International Tactical Conference and Master Instructor School held in Orlando, FL, in May 2003, attendees got an advanced look at the new TASER X26 with Shaped Pulse Technology— a lighter, smaller weapon that integrates new technology, making it more effective and easier to use. It is now in production and being shipped.

The M26 points and feels very much like a duty pistol but has bright yellow striped markings. It was shaped this way for ease of training by taking advantage of hand motions and muscle memory already in place, and to increase accuracy under stress.

The firing end of the TASER is a hollow square that contains two contacts. A small, rectangular cartridge is snapped into the end. When the trigger is pulled, compressed nitrogen blows two plastic, protective doors away from the cartridge and shoots two metal probes or darts up to 15 or 21 feet, depending on the cartridge. These darts are similar to straightened fishhooks, and remain attached to the gun on one end by thin, insulated wires.

The probes affix themselves to the clothing or skin of the assailant and an electrical jolt is sent from the gun down the wires to the probes. This current can penetrate two inches of clothing. When the assailant receives the shock, it overrides his motor nervous system, his muscles involuntarily contract, and he is incapacitated and falls to the ground.

The TASER is safe to use because it interferes with the communication between the brain and the nervous system and doesn’t rely on impact or penetration, nor does it destroy nerves or muscles. And should an assailant who is still hooked up to the wires become combative again, additional pulses can be given.

Advantages of a TASER

There are many advantages to adding a TASER to a patrol officer’s equipment. The main advantage is that an assailant with a knife, club or similar weapon can be incapacitated from a distance of up to 21 feet, allowing for less chance of injury to the officer and the assailant. Total incapacitation takes less than a quarter of a second. In addition, only the person who receives the shock is affected— it will not transfer to anyone touching the assailant, so officers can readily reach out to handcuff him or separate him from others if he is arm locked or restrained with another compliance hold during a civil disturbance.

The TASER can be used in locations such as hospitals or courtrooms where chemical agents can cause unwanted reactionary problems. There is no chance cross-contamination to the arresting officer or bystanders. Mental focus, training, alcohol, body size or drug induced dementia cannot override the TASER’s effect. And its use will not cause long term injuries— the only injuries might be skin irritation, slight burn marks or blisters where the probes attach to the skin.

Studies have shown that the electricity produced will not interfere with a pacemaker nor will it cause a heart attack. And often, just displaying the weapon or threatening to use it, especially when the bad guy sees the red laser dot, will elicit compliance and keep a situation from escalating.

The Advanced TASER M26

The M26 has been used successfully by many departments since its debut in December 1999. It is about the size of a semi-automatic pistol, weighing 18 ounces with its batteries but without a cartridge. Fixed sights on the top are black, and it contains a built-in laser sight, which is activated by disengaging the safety.

Within the TASER itself is a data port that can download information to a computer— information such as how often the weapon had been used, and the time and date of each activation for the most recent 585 firings.

The power supply for the M26 consists of eight AA Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH) rechargeable 1.2 volt batteries. Eight AA Alkaline 1.5 volt batteries (Duracell® Ultra or Energizer® Titanium E2) can also be used. The TASER uses the batteries to release a five-second charge of 50,000 volts. While this sounds like a tremendous amount of electricity, it is delivered at a low 0.168 amps and 26 watts— much less than the shock one might receive from a household current. The TASER delivers 18 pulses per second for the five-second hit.

Since batteries are the source of the current, it is important to be sure they have a full charge and do not lose power due to extreme heat or cold. A red light at the back of the weapon blinks when the alkaline battery is fully charged, remains lit when it needs to be replaced, and goes out when it is dead. NiMH batteries must be charged every two weeks and visually spark tested for a strong pulse rate to confirm charging. A low battery will slow the pulse rate and can reduce the incapacitation effects. Slower pulse rates provide the same power output, but incapacitation is dependent upon a minimum of 12-15 pulses per second.

The cartridges containing the wired probes are bi-directional so they cannot be installed upside down. When fired, they also discharge up to 40 small identification tags called AFIDs that look very much like the colored confetti created by a hole punch. On each tag is a number that tells exactly which cartridge fired the probes.

Even if all of the cartridges carried by an officer have been deployed, the TASER can still be used as a handheld stun gun.

The new TASER X26

The X26 is 60% smaller than the M26 and weighs only seven ounces with batteries (but without the cartridge). It has high resolution, yellow sights on the top for accuracy in low light conditions, as well as the capability of allowing the officer to use the integrated low intensity LED light, the laser, both or neither with the flip of a switch, freeing his hands from holding a separate flashlight. It uses the same cartridges as the M26.

The ambidextrous safety is now marked with an “S” (safety) or “F” (fire) on both sides, and the trigger feels more like a pistol trigger. The grip zones have been enhanced so they have a rougher quality where the palm of the hand touches them to prevent slippage, and it has protective stainless steel shock plates on the side.

The Lithium energy cells used to power the X26 are made specifically for TASER International and must be purchased from them. The company found that it had little control over the strength of batteries bought in retail stores by departments and it wanted to be sure the weapons will work at the optimum rate. In addition, a microchip was installed to the new battery to create a Digital Power Magazine (DPM). This ensures that the TASER pulse rate does not deviate due to temperature variations. The new batteries have a shelf life of 10 years.

There is now a Central Information Display (CID) at the back of the TASER with an expanded readout. The user can know immediately the percentage of the battery life left (zero percent-99%)— the battery monitor takes into consideration the number of firings as well as the use of the flashlight and laser sight and the temperature at the time of each firing. The new batteries can be used for about 300 full five-second cycles before running down, but this depends on air temperature— more firings can be made when the temperature is warm, and fewer when it is very cold, much like a car battery in different temperatures.

The CID also tells which lighting option the user has selected (laser, light, both or neither) and counts down the number of seconds left in an activated five-second hit, providing the officer with the exact amount of time remaining during this five-second “window of opportunity” to handcuff the subject. The X26 will continue to send pulses for five seconds even if the trigger is released or the gun put down. The electrical impulses on the X26 can be shut off before the five seconds are over by engaging the safety.

If the weapon has been activated but not used for more than 20 minutes, the CID will flash “RA,” telling the officer that it needs to be re-armed by simply turning it off and then back on again. This is a safety feature that also saves battery life. By removing the battery and putting it back in, the display will also show the time, the TASER’s internal temperature and when the warranty expires.

The onboard data port can be used to download information from the weapon into a computer, but rather than giving only the date and time of the last 585 firings, the new data port stores this same information— with the time down to the second— for the last 2000 firings, with an automatic adjustment for time zones and daylight savings. It will also give the duration of each firing and the gun’s internal temperature when it was fired, which can aid in knowing if it was fired indoors or outside.

This information is stored as secure encrypted data files that cannot be changed, making it court admissible. Also, through the use of passwords and user IDs, it will record the gun’s serial number, the date and time data was downloaded, what was downloaded, and who did the downloading. The X26 uses a plug and play USB computer connection, a change from the serial port used by the M26.

In addition to size, two big differences exist between the M26 and the X26. One is the pulse technology being used. The X26 contains a Digital Pulse Controller (DPC) which uses a microprocessor and feedback loop to control the pulse rate of the electricity going through the wires, maintaining 19 pulses per second no matter what the temperature is outside. Generally colder temperatures would slow down the pulse rate.

The other big difference with the X26 is its Shaped Pulse Technology™, which sends the hardest pulse rate first for about two seconds (19 pulses per second). It then pulls back to a lesser rate for the rest of the hit (about 15 pulses per second). If the trigger continues to be held, it will continue to send pulses at the rate of 15 pulses per second. This increases the effectiveness of the hit, as well as enhances safety and extends battery life.

According to TASER International, this shaped Pulse Technology allows the X26 to be more efficient with the electricity and therefore accomplish more incapacitation with considerably less energy.

The integrated, eXoskeleton® holster for this new, smaller TASER is ambidextrous (needing only an Allen wrench— included as part of the purchase— to switch it from side to side). Its minimal use of material makes it lightweight while still keeping it as close to Level II retention as possible.

The standard holster can fit on a duty belt by sliding it on. An inexpensive upgrade is available to allow the eXoskeleton holster to be clipped on to the belt for easy removal during shift changes. To avoid confusion with a lethal weapon being carried, the holster must be unsnapped and the weapon rotated out of it, using muscle movements different from a duty pistol.

The holster also forces the ambidextrous safety switch into the safe position so the TASER cannot be holstered armed. A dual cartridge carrier can be mounted on the holster to carry extra cartridges for immediate reloading. The cartridges snap in place so they will not accidentally fall out of their carrier.

Due to its small size and light weight, the X26 is also a valuable tool for bicycle patrols and plainclothes detectives.

Financing the TASER

The previously available M26 retails for approximately $400 without holster or batteries. The new X26 comes with a lithium energy source for up to 300 firings and the ambidextrous holster, making it instantly field deployable from the moment the box is opened. It retails for approximately $800.

The 21-foot cartridges (referring to the maximum distance from which they can be deployed) cost about $19 each and fit both the M26 and the X26. There are also newly introduced XP cartridges, which have longer and heavier probes to allow for extra penetration through heavy clothing. They retail for about $22 each.

Fully deploying a department can be expensive, but Sheriff Kevin Beary of the Orange County (FL) Sheriff’s Office points out that the cost of one lawsuit could buy multiple TASERs.

Several ways to finance the weapons exist. First, city or county budgeting. The Phoenix (AZ) Police Department is the largest agency to have full TASER deployment. According to Commander Harry Markley, it received funding through the city government budget. The city council was convinced that the M26 TASERs would increase officer safety and it gave the department $600,000 to purchase 1175 M26 TASERs. All officers on the force now have them.

Next, grants. In May 2000, the Sacramento Police Department received a California State Grant to purchase 600 TASERs. Advice on applying for grants as well as a list of 23 Web sites dealing with grants can be found at www.TASER.com.

Finally, an upgrade program. TASER International is offering a trade-in allowance on the M26. Their upgrade program gives a discount of $400 minus $15 for every month the M26 was in service, with a minimum discount of $100 regardless of the age of the weapon. And so those officers will have continuous use of a TASER, departments will have 30 days after the X26 is shipped to return the M26. A schedule of the discounts can be found on the Web site: www.TASERx26.com.

According to TASER International, use of the M26 has reduced officer injuries by more than 80% in the Orange County (FL) Sheriff’s Office. The M26 represents 68% of all use of force by Orange County; K9, batons, chemical, physical and impact weapons use has dropped dramatically. The Phoenix (AZ) Police Department has found it has reduced suspect injuries by more than 72% with the M26.

For many law enforcement agencies in the United States, TASERs are an important tool for each officer. These are not necessarily intended to replace other less-lethal options like expandable batons and OC pepper spray. Instead, the TASER is an additional option, since each less-lethal scenario has its own optimal tool. When the assailant is resistive, combative, violent, or has a knife and the only option left is the use of deadly force, the TASER can be a lifesaver, both for the assailant and for the officer.

Jim Weiss is a retired lieutenant from the Brook Park, OH, Police Department and a frequent contributor to LAW and ORDER. Mickey Davis is a Florida-based journalist.

Published in Law and Order, Sep 2003

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