The safety of Tasers is under new scrutiny after a study by a Wisconsin scientist showed that shocks from the guns cause the hearts of healthy pigs to stop beating, the New York Times reports. The Police Executive Research Forum has recommended that officers be allowed to use Tasers only on people who are actively resisting arrest. Some departments allow their use on people who do not follow officers’ orders.
The finding contradicts previous studies that showed that Taser shocks did not cause heart disturbances in pigs, whose hearts are similar to those in humans. John Webster, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Wisconsin who conducted the new study, said earlier studies contained serious errors because they did not account for the fact that pigs have a thick layer of muscle insulating their hearts from their skin. Humans do not. Steve Tuttle, a spokesman for Taser International, which makes the weapons, said Webster’s research was flawed and did not reflect the way that Tasers were used in humans. The current from a Taser shock is dispersed through the body rather than running directly into the heart, Tuttle said. The Justice Department paid for Webster’s study, which is not yet completed. An abstract is posted on Webster’s Web site, http://www.engr.wisc.edu/bme/faculty/webster_john.html
More than 150 people have died after being shocked by Tasers, says Amnesty International, which has called for a moratorium on their use.