Tasers May Not Be As Safe As Advertised

Written by Ralph E. Stone. Posted in Opinion

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Published on October 23, 2012 with 4 Comments

By Ralph E. Stone

October 23, 2012

According to Wikipedia a taser is an electroshock weapon sold by Taser International, Inc. It uses electric current to disrupt voluntary control of muscles causing neuromuscular incapacitation. Someone struck by a Taser experiences stimulation of his or her sensory nerves and motor nerves, resulting in strong involuntary muscle contractions. Tasers do not rely only on pain compliance, except when used in Drive Stun mode, and are thus preferred by some law enforcement over non-Taser stun guns and other electronic control weapons.

Tasers are used by more than 12,000 law enforcement, military and correctional agencies in the U.S. and abroad,

According to Taser International, Inc., located in Scottsdale Arizona, Tasers or Electronic Control Devices (ECDs) are “used worldwide by law enforcement, military, correctional, professional security, and personal protection markets. TASER ECDs use proprietary technology to incapacitate dangerous, combative, or high-risk subjects who pose a risk to law enforcement/correctional officers, innocent citizens, or themselves in a manner that is generally recognized as a safer alternative to other uses of force. TASER technology protects life, and the use of TASER devices dramatically reduces injury rates for law enforcement officers and suspects.”

But Tasers may not be as safe as the company says. Tasers “can cause cardiac electrical capture and provoke cardiac arrest due to ventricular tachycardia/ventricular fibrillation. After prolonged ventricular tachycardia/ventricular fibrillation without resuscitation, asystole develops.”

Amnesty International reported that at least 500 people have died since 2001 after being shocked by Tasers either during arrest or while in jail.

On May 6, 2011, a team of cardiologists at the University of California, San Francisco announced findings suggesting that much of the current Tasers-related safety research may be biased because of ties to the devices’ manufacturer. Some 96 percent of studies supported by Taser concluded that the devices were “not harmful” or “unlikely harmful.” By comparison, only 55 percent of the independent studies found the devices to be “not harmful” or “unlikely harmful.”

In addition, researchers analyzed sudden death data from 50 law enforcement agencies in California that use Tasers. They compared the death rate pre- and post-Taser deployment – analyzing data for five years before each agency began using Tasers and five years afterward and found a sixfold increase in sudden deaths during the first year of Taser use -or nearly 6 deaths per 100,000 arrests. However, after the first year, the rate of sudden deaths dropped down to nearly pre-Taser levels, suggesting that police and others in law enforcement altered the way they were using the devices to make them less lethal.

At the time of the study, California did not have a state-wide training standard for stun guns, even though they had been used in the state for decades. Taser International, Inc. does provide introductory training. After that, the individual law enforcement agency does supplemental training. The California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training sets minimum training standards. But generally, training is on an agency by agency basis and the content of the supplemental training could vary.

In December 2008, Amnesty International issued USA – Stun Guns In Law Enforcement urging “law enforcement officials to suspend the use of stun guns pending further research or to limit their use to situations where law enforcement officers would otherwise be justified in resorting to deadly force and where no lesser alternatives were available.” In addition, Amnesty International called on police authorities to put in place specific guidelines, training and accountability systems for CED use and to tighten the guidelines in order to limit the number and duration of shocks allowed.”

Amnesty International’s recommendations seem sensible and should be adopted before Tasers are even considered for use.

The San Francisco Police Commission will consider a request from Police Chief Greg Suhr to allow the Police Department to arm a select group of officers with Tasers as part of a “pilot project.” The Chief proposes handing Tasers out to officers who have been trained in psychiatric crisis de-escalation and are part of the Crisis Intervention Team. Taser usage will almost certainly expand rapidly from there.

The San Francisco Police Commission will host three forums on Tasers: The Commission will give all members of the public the opportunity for public comment. You will probably have two minutes for public comment.

Tuesday, October 23rd, at 6:00pm at 2850 19th Ave., Scottish Rite Cultural Center

Tuesday, October 30th, at 6:00pm at 639 Vermont St., Downtown High School

Ralph E. Stone

I was born in Massachusetts; graduated from Middlebury College and Suffolk Law School; served as an officer in the Vietnam war; retired from the Federal Trade Commission (consumer and antitrust law); travel extensively with my wife Judi; and since retirement involved in domestic violence prevention and consumer issues.

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Comments for Tasers May Not Be As Safe As Advertised are now closed.

  1. Everyone needs to understand that when they test tasers, they do it on healthy, fit, cops, not a regular person who perhaps smokes, drinks, might be into doing drugs, not healthy

  2. I have just learned that the forums for public comments scheduled for tonight and October 30th have been canceled.  It is uncertain whether the forums will be rescheduled.

  3. Taser’s may not rely only on pain-compliance to function but they still have the potential to be used as a pain-compliance device because Police threaten a prospective victim and give them the option to obey an instruction or suffer the pain of the shock and the fall to the ground.  That is why people often submit to the threat – it is because they know a Taser shock hurts like HELL. 

    It may be possible to argue that pain or suffering
    arising only from, inherent in or incidental to, lawful sanctions is not torture as defined by some interpretations of law, but Torture, as defined by the dictionary is: The action or practice of inflicting severe pain on someone as a punishment or in order to force them to do or say something.  I will go with the dictionary definition, for the sake of humanity resist legal semantics.

    The list of groups unsuitable for being subjected to Taser shocking, in
    all but the most exceptional circumstance, should include:

    * The elderly
    * children of all ages

    * pregnant women,

    * the known to be mentally ill,

    * those under the effects of psychotropic drugs,

    * the disabled,

    * the deaf and blind (if they may not understand the threat),

    * people exhibiting signs of ‘excited delirium’,

    * people suffering from or with a history of epileptic seizure,

    * people carrying or soaked with flammable and explosive substances,

    * people with heart conditions,

    * people who are already restrained,

    * people who are moving, especially running, or can fall causing injury,

    * people who simply refuse to comply, are defiant, with instructions but are not posing a violent threat, 

    * And people who can be restrained by an alternative means that presents less risk in the circumstances.

    The misuse of Taser is a management and training issue.  If controlled
    correctly by the issuing authority it is a device that can arguably contribute to
    effective policing.  If badly deployed it is a dangerous erosion of the
    covenant between the Police and the people.

  4. The subject header of your post gained my attention, particularly given this is what has been learned within the state of Vermont as well, including due to the death of MacAdam Mason on June 20th, whose death has been ruled by the medical examiner as being due to his having been tazed in the chest:
    http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20120928/NEWS07/309280026/Taser-shock-killed-Thetford-man-medical-examiner-findsBy the way, both the finding and recommendations found within the 2011 Montpelier Taser Committee report might be of interest to your readers as well:https://docs.google.com/open?id=1TddNasu1PPtpY7yAbYtbtvCn7A5jPEpzXfESs_GLX-DSios9aiqtevqLR7OW

    Related information is also available on the following online informational slideshow: