Last year, for the first time in 15 years, no one in Seattle was shot and killed by the police, says the New York Times. Miami had no police shootings last year for the first time in 14 years. In Phoenix, deadly police shootings fell in 2003 to the lowest rate in 14 years.
Tasers, which looks like pistols but do not shoot to kill, are given some of the credit. Supporters say Tasers save lives and protect officers and suspects in standoffs that might otherwise led to deaths or injuries.
Some question whether Tasers could be abused by the police as it hits suspects with 50,000 volts of electricity, disabling them for five seconds at a time. Human rights groups call Tasers potential instruments of torture. They are used by more than 4,000 police departments. About 170 new departments buy the guns every month, and the Army has begun using them in Iraq, according to Taser International, the Arizona company that makes them. More than one-third of Seattle’s 600 officers carry Tasers; in Miami, Phoenix, and a growing number of cities, every officer has one. Tasers often are introduced after controversial police shootings. That was the case in Seattle, Denver, Austin, Tex., and Portland, Ore.
The newest Tasers are an advanced version of technology developed in the 1970s but not considered effective until recently, The electrical pulses travel from the gun through two 21-foot-long wires with probes. If the probes pierce skin or a layer of clothing two inches thick or less, the jolt contracts the muscles and throws the suspect off balance. It makes the suspect unable to move, and gives police five seconds with every “tasing” to handcuff the suspect.