By Bryce McGarel
Taser stun guns may not be as safe as its manufacturers claim, research conducted in the US has suggested.
Taser guns hit their target with 50,000 volts
Specialist units of the PSNI will be armed with the weapons, which emit 50,000 volts, from this weekend after under-going a two day training course.
Scientists at the trauma centre in Chicago's Cook County Hospital stunned 11 pigs with the guns for two periods of 40 seconds at 15 second intervals.
All of the animals suffered heart rhythm problems and two later died.
The details were revealed by the Canadian Broadcasting Company.
Bob Walker, one of the lead researchers on the study, said the fact that one of the pigs died three minutes after being stunned cast doubt on the weapon's safety.
"It says that the effect of the Taser shot can last beyond the time when it's being delivered," he said.
"So, after the Taser shock ends, there can still be effects that can be evoked and you can still see cardiac effects.
Rick Smith, the CEO of Taser International, said he did not think much could be concluded from the Chicago study because it focused on pigs that weighed just over seven stones.
"The human studies are clearly much more relevant to policy-makers, and to people that are interested in the science of how Tasers affect people," he said.
The PSNI have purchased 12 of the weapons. They are being used in a pilot scheme by officers from the Special Operations Branch which began on 25 January.
Assistant Chief Constable Roy Toner, head of the Taser pilot, said officers had been trained to the highest national standards.
"Between April 2003 and January 2008 Taser has been fired 425 times in the rest of the UK," he said.
"There have been no deaths or serious injuries to anyone in the UK as a result of being hit with Taser. Any person hit by Taser is offered a referral to an independent medical practitioner.
"I believe Taser will save lives - it gives the Police Service a greater range of tactical options and actually advances human rights."
However, Dr Andrew Dennis, a trauma surgeon and ex-police officer who also worked on the Chicago study, said police officers needed to question themselves every time they thought about using the weapon.
"They need to have the understanding that this is not a truly benign device," he added.