Taser Safety Issues

dont tase me bro

Taser safety issues include cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) in susceptible subjects, possibly leading to heart attack or death in minutes by ventricular fibrillation, which leads to cardiac arrest and—if not treated immediately—to sudden death. People susceptible to this outcome are sometimes healthy and unaware of their susceptibility.

Although the medical conditions or use of illegal drugs among some of the casualties may have been the proximate cause of death, the electric shock of the Taser can significantly heighten such risk for subjects in an at-risk category. In some cases however, death occurred after Taser use coupled with the use of force alone, with no evidence of underlying medical condition and no use of drugs.

Tasers, like other electric devices, have been found to ignite flammable materials. For this reason Tasers come with express instructions not to use them where flammable liquids or fumes may be present, such as filling stations and methamphetamine labs.

An evaluative study carried out by the British Home Office investigated the potential for Tasers to ignite CS gas (tear gas). Seven trials were conducted, in which CS gas canisters containing methyl isobutyl ketone (a solvent in all CS sprays used by the UK police) were sprayed over mannequins wearing street clothing. The Tasers were then fired at the mannequins. In two of the seven trials, ‘the flames produced were severe and engulfed the top half of the mannequin, including the head.’ This poses a particular problem for law enforcement, as some police departments approve the use of CS before the use of a Taser.

A 2005 memorandum from the Aberdeen Proving Ground, a US Army weapons test site, discouraged shocking soldiers with Tasers in training, contrary to Taser International’s recommendations. The Army’s occupational health sciences director affirmed the Taser’s effectiveness, but warned that ‘Seizures and ventricular fibrillation can be induced by the electric current.’ And that ‘the practice of using these weapons on U.S. Army military and civilian forces in training is not recommended, given the potential risks.’

Police officers in at least five US states have filed lawsuits against Taser International claiming they suffered serious injuries after being shocked with the device during training classes. Medical literature reports that one police officer suffered spine fractures after being shocked by a Taser during a demonstration.

Although tests on police and military volunteers have shown Tasers to function appropriately on a healthy, calm individual in a relaxed and controlled environment, the real-life target of a Taser is, if not mentally or physically unsound, in a state of high stress and in the midst of a confrontation. According to the UK’s Defence Scientific Advisory Council’s subcommittee on the Medical Implications of Less-lethal Weapons (DoMILL), ‘The possibility that other factors such as illicit drug intoxication, alcohol abuse, pre-existing heart disease, and cardioactive therapeutic drugs may modify the threshold for generation of cardiac arrhythmias cannot be excluded.’ In addition, Taser experiments ‘do not take into account real life use of Tasers by law enforcement agencies, such as repeated or prolonged shocks and the use of restraints.’

The United Nations Committee Against Torture (UNCAT), an agency charged with overseeing the application of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, arrived at the conclusion in 2007, that the use of the electric pulse Taser gun constitutes a ‘form of torture’ and ‘can even provoke death.’ The UN has declared: ‘TASER electronic stun guns are a form of torture that can kill.’

Additionally, critics claim that risk-averse police officers resort to using Taser in situations in which they otherwise would have used more conventional, less violent alternatives, such as trying to reason with a cornered suspect. Current British police guidelines allow Taser to be used preemptively, even where the suspect has no weapon. Where originally Tasers were only used when officers or the public were being threatened with a weapon, Tasers may and are being used without warning to surprise suspects before being arrested. In 2008 on BBC 1, the program ‘Traffic Cops’ showed police surprising a pedestrian by shooting him with a Taser without warning, before arresting him on suspicion of theft. The suspect had no weapon and was talking with a bystander and posed no threat, when officers leapt out of a car and tased him. The suspect was later found to be an innocent pedestrian. The police maintained that it is lawful to make use of the Taser before making an arrest, in case the suspect is not cooperative.

Supporters claim that electroshock weapons such as Tasers are more effective than other means including pepper-spray (an eye/breathing inflammatory agent), batons, or other conventional ways of inflicting pain, even handguns, at bringing a subject down to the ground with minimum physical exertion. They also claim that electroshock guns are a safer alternative to devices such as firearms. Taser International now uses the term, ‘less lethal’ instead of ‘non-lethal,’ which does not mean the weapon cannot cause death, but that it is not intended to be fatal, and in most cases is not. Non-lethal weapons are defined as ‘weapons that are explicitly designed and primarily employed so as to incapacitate personnel or material, while minimizing fatalities, permanent injury to personnel, and undesired damage to property and the environment.’ It has been proposed that the Taser should only be used in a situation in which the use of a firearm is an absolute must, to which a person would choose to act with a Taser instead of a firearm.

While they are not technically considered lethal, some authorities and non-governmental organizations question both the degree of safety presented by the weapon and the ethical implications of using a weapon that some, such as sections of Amnesty International, allege is inhumane. As a consequence, Amnesty International Canada and other civil liberties organizations have argued that a moratorium should be placed on Taser use until research can determine a way for them to be safely used. Amnesty International has documented over 334 deaths that occurred after the use of Tasers. Amnesty International. Police sources question whether the Taser was the actual cause of death in those cases, as many of the deaths occurred in people with serious medical conditions and/or severe drug intoxication, often to the point of ‘excited delirium.’

Critics of taser use, however, argue that ‘excited delirium’ is not a valid medical term and is not listed in the ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.’ Tasers are often used as an alternative to attempting to verbally get a potentially armed, or otherwise dangerous suspect to comply. The less-lethal category also includes devices such as pepper spray, tear gas, and riot guns, all of which have been reported as contributing or causative factors in deaths. One problem when comparing the Taser to other forms of force is that no precise statistics are kept in the U.S. on policing related deaths or the use of excessive force. In 2001, the ‘New York Times’ reported that the U.S. government is unable or unwilling to collect statistics showing the precise number of suspects killed by the police or the prevalence of the use of excessive force.

Taser International has stated in a training bulletin that repeated blasts of a taser can ‘impair breathing and respiration.’ Electroshock devices can also damage delicate electrical equipment such as pacemakers, but tests conducted by the Cleveland Clinic found that Tasers did not interfere with pacemakers and implantable defibrillators.

In 2009, Taser International issued a warning and new targeting guidelines to law enforcement agencies to aim shots below the chest center of mass as ‘avoiding chest shots with ECDs avoids the controversy about whether ECDs do or do not affect the human heart’ Calgary Police Service indicated in a news interview that the rationale for the warning was ‘new medical research that is coming out is showing that the closer probe to heart distances have a likelihood, or a possibility, that they may affect the rhythm of the heart.’ Central Texas Constable Richard McCain, whose deputy used a Taser weapon against an unarmed 72-year-old woman (resulting in a $40,000 lawsuit settlement), describes Taser’s directive as ‘not really practical.’

While their intended purpose is to circumvent the use of lethal force such as guns, the actual deployment of Tasers by police in the years since Tasers came into widespread use is claimed to have resulted in more than 180 deaths as of 2006. It is still unclear whether the Taser was directly responsible for the cause of death, but several legislators in the U.S. have filed bills clamping down on them and requesting more studies on their effects. Despite the growing controversy, a study funded by the U.S. Justice Department asserted that the majority of people tasered from July 2005 to June 2007 suffered no injury. A study led by William Bozeman of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center of nearly 1,000 persons subjected to Taser use concluded that 99.7% of the subjects had either minor injuries, such as scrapes and bruises, or none at all; while three persons suffered injuries severe enough to need hospital admission, and two other subjects died. Their autopsy reports indicated neither death was related to the use of a Taser.

The head of the U.S. southern regional office of Amnesty International, Jared Feuer, claimed that 277 people in the United States have died after being shocked by a Taser between June 2001 and October 2007, which has already been documented. He also claimed that about 80% of those on whom a Taser was used by U.S. police were unarmed. ‘Tasers interfere with a basic equation, which is that force must always be proportional to the threat,’ Feuer said. ‘They are being used in a situation where a firearm or even a baton would never be justified.’ A spokesperson for Taser International asserted that if a person dies from a ‘tasering’ it is instantaneous and not days later.

Between June 2001 and June 2007, there were at least 245 cases of deaths of subjects after having been shocked using Tasers. Of these cases: In 7 cases, medical examiners said Tasers were a cause or a contributing factor or could not be ruled out as a cause of death. In 16 cases coroners and other officials stated that a Taser was a secondary or contributory factor of death. In dozens of cases, coroners cited excited delirium as cause of death. Several deaths occurred as a result of injuries sustained in struggles. In a few of these cases head injury due to falling after being shocked contributed to later death. Some police departments, like that of Clearwater, Florida, have tried to eliminate such incidents by prohibiting taser use when the suspect is in danger of falling.

A study by the Potomac Institute, a Washington D.C. think tank, concluded; ‘Based on the available evidence, and on accepted criteria for defining product risk vs. efficacy, we believe that when stun technology is appropriately applied, it is relatively safe and clearly effective. The only known field data that are available suggest that the odds are, at worst, one in one thousand that a stun device would contribute to (and this does not imply ’cause’) death. This figure is likely not different than the odds of death when stun devices are not used, but when other multiple force measures are. A more defensible figure is one in one hundred thousand.’

An investigation by the Canadian Press and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation found that one-third of those shot by a Taser by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police received injuries that required medical attention as a result. The study, done by Pierre Savard, Ing., PhD., Ecole Polythechnique de Montreal, et al., indicated that the threshold of energy needed to induce deadly ventricular fibrillation decreased dramatically with each successive burst of pulses. The threshold for women may be less. Although the Taser is a programmable device, the controlling software does not limit: a) the number of the bursts of pulses and the time between bursts while the trigger is held down continuously, or b) the number of times the shock cycles can be repeated. Thus the design does not adequately reduce the likelihood that the victim’s heart enters into a deadly ventricular fibrillation.

San Francisco cardiologist and electrophysiologist Dr. Zian Tseng told the Braidwood Inquiry (a task force in British Columbia investigating Tasers) that a healthy individual could die from a Taser discharge, depending on electrode placement on the chest and pulse timing. He said that the risk of serious injury or death is increased by the number of activations, adrenaline or drugs in the bloodstream, and a susceptible medical history. After Tseng began researching Tasers three years ago, Taser International contacted him, asking him to reconsider his media statements and offering funding.

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