By AMANDA LEE MYERS
Associated Press Writer
PHOENIX- The nation's largest stun-gun manufacturer is working on a new way to deliver electricity to the human body: through 12-gauge shotgun shells.Though it's still being developed, Taser International Inc. says the new product will allow police officers and U.S. troops to hit someone from a much greater distance than its current line of Tasers, which Amnesty International has cited in more than 120 deaths.
The eXtended Range Electro-Muscular Projectile, or XREP, will be a shotgun shell designed to combine the blunt-force trauma of a fast-moving baseball with the electrical current of a stun gun.
"It will truly cause incapacitation," company spokesman Steve Tuttle said.
Taser hopes to release the product in 2007. The Office of Naval Research funded the approximately $500,000 it took to develop the shotgun shells, Tuttle said.
The company has been selling its stun-gun weapons to law enforcement agencies since 1998. Today, more than 175,000 Tasers are being used by more than 8,500 agencies in the United States. More than 100,000 of the devices have been sold to private U.S. citizens, and U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq also use them, Tuttle said.
Tasers shoot two barbed darts that deliver 50,000-volt jolts to the human body using a special electrical wave form that overwhelms the nervous system and temporarily paralyzes people.
But the weapons, considered by the company to be low-level-force devices, can hit a target only about 25 feet away.
Test models of the XREP shells currently reach 100 feet, though the military has challenged the company to extend the range to 330 feet, the company said.
"It's going to give you a pretty good thump when it hits," said Taser President Tom Smith, "but our design goal is to make it safe even at the muzzle."
When deployed, a round will hit a target, latch on and deliver an incapacitating jolt of electricity. Smith said company engineers were still working on how the shell will latch on to suspects but said the shells will have the same incapacitating effect as traditional Tasers because they will use the same electrical wave form.
By contrast, the Taser XREP shotgun shell will be considered a higher level use of force because of the physical impact of the shell.
"Obviously, if Taser has come up with a tool that would give us that distance and give us another option, that's something we would take a look at," said Sgt. Lauri Williams of the Phoenix Police Department, which issues Tasers to its officers. "We're always looking at other options to keep our officers safe, and suspects too."
Already, the product is drawing criticism from human rights organizations, who have accused law-enforcement agencies of using the existing Tasers when more humane options are available. Amnesty International has called for independent studies on their safety.
"Amnesty's concern with this product would be similar to those with Tasers being used currently," said Amnesty International spokesman Edward Jackson. "Where is the independent comprehensive medical testing? In the absence of that testing, we run the risk of turning private citizens into guinea pigs."
According to Amnesty International's count, more than 120 people shocked with a Taser have died shortly afterward in the United States and Canada.
Taser denies that its products are solely to blame in any 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.
But Taser-related deaths have prompted some police departments to reconsider the necessity of the devices, and lawmakers in Florida and Georgia have introduced bills restricting their use.
Taser tested the electric wave form of the new product on 35 volunteers at its Scottsdale headquarters last month but didn't fire the shells at them to do so. Nobody was injured during the testing, Smith said.
He added: "We're nowhere near a production level yet."
On the Net:
Taser International: http://www.taser.com
Amnesty International: http://www.amnestyusa.org
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