How Tasers Work–And Sometimes Don’t


Tasers usually work so well that law enforcement officers rely on them — too much, if they’re not careful, says the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer. A Taser didn’t work last week when sheriff’s deputies tried to take down Raymond Geoffrion, who they say was armed with guns, blades, and pipe bombs. He was holed up in an apartment, where for four hours authorities negotiated with him. Eventually they persuaded him to come to the doorway unarmed. That’s when they fired the Taser at him. Propelled by compressed gas and trailing thin copper wires, the twin barbs shot out at 180 feet per second. When they hit him, he should have been immobilized by a battery-powered jolt of up to 50,000 volts. His muscles should have locked, contracted by the electric current running between the probes. But he did not drop. One barb had bent as it embedded. Deputies say he grabbed a short-fused pipe bomb and an igniter as they swarmed in.

Authorities have learned heavy or loose clothing can deflect a Taser’s metal probes. Some criminals and inmates have been finding ways to block Tasers, and police and corrections officers have had to adjust their tactics to compensate. A Taser works best at a range of 7 to 15 feet. The twin barbs deploy at different angles — one shooting straight and the other dropping 8 degrees. On impact they need to be at least 4 inches apart to work well. The farther apart they are on the body, the more muscle groups they engage. The muscles between the two probes contract for 5 seconds as the current cycles through, overriding natural electrical signals from the brain. If after 5 seconds the suspect refuses to cooperate the Taser can be triggered repeatedly, in 5-second bursts. Because one probe shoots lower than the other, sometimes one will miss, dropping off to one side or falling between a suspect’s legs. Without both barbs embedded, there’s no connection. A lone probe delivers no current.


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