What cops already know: Tasers are unsafe


Probably the most compelling argument to date that the use of Tasers should be banned is the fact that several large police departments — in Las Vegas, Phoenix and Scottsdale, Ariz. — have now prohibited testing them on fellow officers during training exercises. This is due to the proliferation of severe injuries and subsequent lawsuits by injured officers.

According to the most recent report issued on Tasers by the ACLU of Northern California, in August 2005 alone officers in five states filed lawsuits against the device’s manufacturer, Taser International.

Amazingly, the same police departments that now ban the use of Tasers on their own rank and file continue to use them on their citizenry — sometimes with fatal consequences.

Consider the conditions under which the Tasers’ shocks are administered to officers as compared with their use on the public. As part of the Taser training process it is routine for officers in most departments to undergo a one-second blast from the weapon to better understand its debilitating impact before using it on a citizen.

This blast is administered in a tightly controlled setting, with the officer standing on a mat while being spotted by two fellow officers.

Despite these precautions, the Taser proved too dangerous to continue to use on officers. No such precautions are taken when a citizen is the one being zapped.

The Mountain View Police Department, as well as others in the Bay Area, continues to subject its officers to these Taser demonstrations, although the practice is now voluntary. It is easy to imagine that, once an officer is injured during one of these training sessions, Mountain View will quickly join those other departments in banning their use on fellow officers.

On the streets, when a citizen is shot with a Taser, the blast lasts for five seconds instead of one, and can be administered multiple times. In the last year alone we have seen 15 people in Northern California die after being shot with Tasers, many of them after receiving multiple five-second blasts.

Of course the officers have no idea what vulnerabilities a citizen may have to the weapons before they inflict their 50,000-volt blast.

Too often we are seeing individuals hit by Tasers for the most innocuous of offenses before other truly non-lethal methods — like crisis intervention or conflict resolution — are even considered.

It is time we act responsibly as a community and ban Tasers in Mountain View, or at a minimum demand a moratorium on their use until adequate independent testing has been conducted to determine whether this weapon can ever be used in a truly safe and humane fashion.

Given that there have been more than 160 deaths by Tasers in the United States since 1999, nearly half of them in the last two years, once the testing has been completed an outright ban on Tasers is likely to be the only reasonable solution — absent an unbending rule that they only be used as an alternative to deadly force.

But given the fact that police are trained to use a gun when the suspect has a gun or a knife in close proximity, and given that Tasers only incapacitate their target 75 percent of the time, the likelihood that Tasers will ever be used as an alternative to deadly force is zero.  If Tasers are not safe to use on police in tightly controlled circumstances, then certainly they’re not safe to use on our citizens on the streets of Mountain View.

This piece originally appeared in the Mt View Voice

One Reply to “What cops already know: Tasers are unsafe”

  1. Here is an updated piece on the danger of Tasers:

    The Taser Did it…By Chris Kaiser, save|AATake Posttest (July24, 2013)
    The jury in a coroner’s inquest Tuesday ruled that a Canadian police officer was not responsible for the death of a 27-year-old man who died after the officer fired a stun gun at him.

    The death in June 2010 of Aron Firman, from Collingwood, Ontario, was accidental, the jury said. The stun gun was only a contributing factor, according to a report on CTV News online.

    The other contributing factor was Firman’s cardiac arrhythmia due to schizophrenia that was heightened by agitation and excited delirium of the situation, according to the jury, which had begun listening to the evidence in the April.

    Firman, who was taking antipsychotic drugs for schizophrenia, had been living in a group home when the police responded to an assault complaint about Firman. Firman got agitated, hit one officer and charged the other before being tased. He took a few steps, fell unconscious, and was taken to an area hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

    In a study of eight cases of Taser-induced loss of consciousness in the journal Circulation, Dr. Douglas Zipes, from Indiana University School of Medicine, concluded that “shocks from stun guns can cause ventricular fibrillation, which can lead to death.”

    Ontario’s chief pathologist, Dr. Michael Pollanen, said in court that “Firman’s death was directly attributable to the use of the Taser and that a ‘moderately’ enlarged heart and genetic variations made Firman susceptible to an injury to the heart — such as a discharge by an conductive energy weapon,” according to a report on thepost.on.ca.

    But the jury ruled otherwise, suggesting a twist to the National Rifle Association’s slogan — “People with Tasers don’t kill people; Tasers kill people.”

    Although the jury called the death accidental, it made 21 recommendations regarding the use of Tasers, such as implementing a national database of deaths due to stun guns involving police, and training for police on the use of Tasers including how to respond when a suspect doesn’t, according to CTV News online.

    As of April 2013, 538 deaths have occurred in the U.S. since 2001 that are attributable to Taser shocks, according to a report on Infowars.com.

    The report said that African Americans, who comprise 13.6% of the population, are disproportionately at the wrong end of a stun gun. A total of 41% of Taser-related deaths in the U.S. between 2009 and 2013 involved blacks.

    The report also said that police in some U.S. cities have been found to unnecessarily use Tasers against the mentally ill, and stun gun use against children and adolescents is increasing.

    In the U.S., stun guns are classified as non-lethal weapons. They are not considered firearms and, therefore, are not regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

    In Canada, they are illegal and come under this provision in the Criminal Code: “Any device that is designed to be capable of injuring, immobilizing or incapacitating a person or an animal by discharging an electrical charge produced by means of the amplification or accumulation of the electrical current generated by a battery, where the device is designed or altered so that the electrical charge may be discharged when the device is of a length of less than 480 mm, and any similar device.”

    The Taser X26, which is preferred by law officers in the U.S., can deliver an initial shock of 50,000 volts, followed by shorter 1,200-volt shocks that the user can stop, repeat, or sustain longer.

    A report from Ontario’s Special Investigation Unit (SIU) had earlier cleared the officer of any wrongdoing. SIU director Ian Scott said that “he was willing to concede the Taser shock caused the man’s death, but determined the officer was conducting a legal arrest at the time and responded appropriately,” according to CTV News online.


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