Beset by Controversy, Taser to Offer Cameras on Its Guns

With issues of liability at stake, Taser offers camera that records video when gun is on

Amnesty International has compiled a list of more than 100 people the group says have died after being shocked by Tasers in encounters with law enforcement since June 2001.

The deaths have prompted some police departments to reconsider the necessity of the devices. Lawmakers have introduced bills restricting their use.

Taser denies that its products are to blame in the deaths, arguing that drugs, health conditions or other factors, not the electrical shock, have been the cause. The company also contends Tasers have saved the lives of thousands of suspects who might otherwise have been shot by police.

Taser has been selling its weapons to law enforcement since 1998. Today, about 171,000 Tasers are being used by more than 8,000 agencies in the United States, according to the company.

The weapon uses compressed nitrogen to fire two barbed darts that can penetrate clothing. The darts are attached to the stun gun by wires that deliver the 50,000-volt shock, overwhelming the nervous system and temporarily paralyzing people.

Taser executives hope the new cameras show suspects complying with officers' orders at the mere threat of a Taser being used, what they consider a best-case scenario.

The Taser Cam records in black and white but is equipped with infrared technology to record images in very low light. The camera will have at least one hour of recording time, the company said, and the video can be downloaded to a computer over a USB cable.

Al Arena, a project manager with the International Association of Chiefs of Police research center in Virginia, said the Taser Cam could "only be a good thing." But he cautioned that police departments should create policies on downloading the material to ensure no video footage is deleted.

"That transfer really needs to have some standards and requirements, otherwise there's no security there," he said.

A Taser rival, Tampa, Florida-based Stinger Systems Inc., announced Oct. 10 that it had begun selling stun guns that can also be equipped with an audio-video recorder. The guns sell for about $600 (?500) and the recorders for about $200 (?170). The company won't say who has bought the weapons.

Matthew Felling of the Center for Media and Public Affairs, a nonprofit research group, said police agencies "that don't invest in Taser Cam technology are playing with PR fire."

"The first local police force that gets accused of excessive force without video to refute the claim will be the last one," he said. "This technology pays for itself in the court of public opinion. What you lose in revenue, you gain in public trust."