It might be a good time to think about Tasers and the agencies you cover. New
studies will fuel the debate over the widely-used “conducted electrical
weapons.” If the agencies you cover aren't using them, you might want to ask around to see
if either the rank-or-file or the commanders want to change that.
Most of what the public knows about Tasers is, to say the least, anecdotal.
“Don't tase me, bro!” might be the catchphrase to sum up a host of viral
videos in which the “conducted electrical weapon” is the star.
Far less exciting is the scientific work going on to find out what happens
when Tasers are used over and over in the workaday world of law enforcement.
In recent weeks, two medical journals have published articles on Tasers. And
Amnesty International issued a thick report of its own.
Journal articles usually aren't available free online, but authors often will
share them and some journal publishers will email an article to a working
You can immediately read an Orlando Sentinel story on a medical study of
1,201 Taser cases in six agencies at
The authors of the Annals of Emergency Medicine article attributed
only three serious injuries to Tasers, although they excluded the deaths of
two suspects who did not suffer immediate effects but collapsed later. The
authors say there is no evidence that an electrical shock could cause such
delayed effects. They attributed no heart problems to Tasers but called for
An Amnesty International report issued in December:
reflects the doubts of Taser critics about those cases in which suspects died
minutes or hours after being stunned. The organization lists 334 deaths
after Taser use from 2001 to August 2008.
And, most recently, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on a 50-agency study
finding in-custody deaths jumped sharply in the first year Tasers were used.
The deaths returned to normal levels subsequently, according to the article
in the American Journal of Cardiology. The Chronicle quotes a researcher as
speculating that inexperienced officers may be administering repeated shocks.
I cover an agency that shelved Tasers in 2005 but now is seeking
to buy more than 1,000 to put one in the hands of every field officer and
sergeant. When I post a story on Tasers, the comments from readers make it
clear that the biggest question about Tasers is how they really are used.
Does the weapon help subdue a suspect who might otherwise be shot and killed?
Or is it wielded indiscriminately to intimidate rowdy – but not dangerous –
Examples of the latter are of course available on YouTube. The classic case
of the former is when multiple officers are confronted by someone with a
knife. You might want to find out how often that scenario has played out
locally – and what happened.