Can Tasers Reduce Police Shooting Deaths? The Evidence Is Mixed


Deadly police shootings are forcing some big city police departments to take a new look at whether stun guns — typically called Tasers — could reduce the number of fatal encounters between officers and the public, says the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The “five-second window” created by a Taser shock creates an expectation that the officer will have time to take the suspect in custody. Last month, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced plans to buy hundreds of additional Tasers for his city's police department and ensure every officer is trained to use them by June. The plans followed heated protests after a dashboard video showed an officer shooting a fleeing teen 16 times in a 2014 confrontation.

Equipping all police officers with Tasers is expensive, and the evidence that the devices reduce the number of officer-involved shootings is mixed: A 2010 expansion of Tasers in Chicago failed to produce a dip in police shootings. In addition, Tasers themselves also have proved to be deadly at times. Though law enforcement analysts concede that Tasers are not a perfect solution, some say it is inevitable that alternatives to deadly force will get a longer look. Said Jeff Garland, a defense tactics instructor at Hennepin Technical College who spent 31 years in law enforcement. “If they don't look at alternatives, the other alternative is like in Ferguson, Cleveland and Baltimore: You're going to be paying a heck of a lot more money with wrongful-death suits.” A 2014 study published by the American Heart Association said the devices can cause cardiac arrest if used for too long or on people with certain medical conditions. The study said police should treat Tasers “with the same level of respect as a firearm.”

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