Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Are Tasers a Hazard to Public Health?

Back in March I cited an article that stated 148 people had been killed by tasers in the last 7 years and then stated that "if the alternative [to the taser] is being shot 22 times by the police....I'll take the taser option every time."

But I recently ran across an article by Mark Silverstein and Mindy Barton of the Colorado ACLU that makes me wonder if my flippant comment above is accurate. Apparently, many of the people who die from tasers are already in custody and do not present a threat to law enforcement that would otherwise be met with lethal force.
[M]ore than 200 persons have died shortly after being shocked by law enforcement Tasers....The number of Taser-associated deaths has steadily increased. There were 4 in 2001; 13 in 2002; 20 in 2003; 57 in 2004; 73 in 2005; and an additional 44 so far in 2006.

Most of the deceased posed no serious physical threat to police. Many were extremely agitated or intoxicated. Some had underlying heart problems. Taser International has reported that 80 percent of suspects shocked by Tasers were not brandishing any weapon.

Before the death toll mounts any higher, law enforcement agencies must... immediately stop using Tasers in situations that do not present a substantial threat of death or serious bodily injury.|Rocky Mountain News|
While I'm in favor of police using less-than-lethal technology, I think that caution is warranted given rapid rise in taser deaths. As tasers become more widespread, it seems reasonable that the taser death rate will go even higher.

It's one thing if the police use tasers as an alternative to firearms and lethal force, but quite another if they are using the tasers on people who do not pose a significant threat such as the Wisconsin man who recently died after being tasered on his parent's lawn, or the Rhode Island man who died after being shocked in the booking area of the police station.

Mark Silverstein and Mindy Barton point to new evidence indicating that the taser may be too powerful for use on suspects who do not post a lethal threat.
Taser International has always claimed that Tasers cannot produce enough current to cause fatal heart problems. In 2005, however, a U.S. Army memorandum concluded that Tasers could indeed cause ventricular fibrillation. It therefore recommended against shocking soldiers during training exercises.

Earlier this year, a peer-reviewed forensic engineering journal published a study that tested a Taser and concluded that it discharged current far more powerful than Taser International acknowledged - powerful enough to cause fatal heart disrhythmias.

In May, a biomedical engineering professor reported that Tasers caused the hearts of healthy pigs to stop beating, contradicting earlier Taser International-sponsored studies. |Rocky Mountain News|

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