ECLECTIC RANT: Tasers May Not Be As Safe As Advertised

By Ralph E. Stone
Thursday October 25, 2012 - 04:51:00 PM

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.