Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Excited Delirium and Police Tactics

NPR has a news article on excited delirium, a controversial medical diagnosis for people who manifest rage and superhuman strength. The condition is being used by Taser International to explain deaths in custody of individuals who are hit by tasers.

Browsing around I found a page by the Force Science Research Center at the University of Minnesota Mankato discussing ten techniques for dealing with individuals suffering from Excited Delirium. The seventh technique specifically deals with the use of a Taser on individuals suffering from Excited Delirium (or ED).
In considering tactics, keep in mind that "[Excited Delirium] is often characterized by superhuman strength and imperviousness to pain. Thus, control through empty-hand, mechanical techniques may be more difficult to achieve, and pain-based techniques may be relatively ineffective." The subject is typically "unresponsive to verbal direction."

The effectiveness of pepper spray and impact techniques (baton strikes and beanbag rounds) "will likely be diminished with individuals who are unresponsive to pain."

If empty-hand techniques are to be tried, "then the officers should be trained in advance to function as part of a multiple-officer takedown team."


A better choice may be Conducted Energy Devices (Tasers). However, current research cautions about a possible link "between MULTIPLE such applications and death in persons with symptoms of ED. To mitigate this risk, a SINGLE Taser application should be made before the subject has been exhausted."

(The Taser should be used not in the hope of gaining compliance but to create a window of disablement during which officers can establish physical control of the subject.)


One Taser firing in the probe mode, "followed by a restraint technique that does not impair respiration, may provide the optimum outcome."

NOTE: "The Taser should not be used in the pain-distraction (push/stun) mode in dealing with ED individuals," since that is primarily a pain-reliant technique.


Whatever the tactical approach, "without a common plan and without training and practice in working together in multi-officer techniques, officers may very likely end up working against each other." |PoliceOne| (emphasis added)


Another article on PoliceOne by Charles Remberg claims that Excited Delirium can be traced back to 1849.

Much about ED remains a mystery, although the syndrome has been recognized since 1849 or earlier. Modern experience shows that the typical encounter with first responders begins with an "agitated, excited" adult male creating a disturbance, triggering a call to 911...

Hyperthermia (overheating) may be spiking his body temperature to 105-113 degrees, so he’s often sweating profusely, although perspiration may cease "in the later phases of the emergency." Frequently ED subjects will be tearing at their clothing or already be partially or totally naked.|PoliceOne|
There is some speculation that the rise in cases of Excited Delirium is tied to the ever-increasing abuse of methamphetamine and is tied to methamphetamine psychosis.

This article by a Canadian police investigator suggests that chronic users of cocaine and methamphetamine as well as schizophrenics (off their meds) are subject to excited delirium. Abnormal dopamine levels are the likely culprit for excited delirium. Dopamine regulates body temperature and is also key to the fight and flight reaction in the brain.

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