While deadly police shootings in the U.S. have gained international attention this year, 47 lesser-known people have lost their lives after law enforcement officers deployed a Taser, says The Counted, an ongoing investigation by The Guardian documenting fatalities after police encounters. All but three of those who died were unfarmed; 40 percent of them were back. In at least 53 percent of such cases, the suspect was displaying signs of intoxication before his or her death. Many died after shocks administered seemingly in violation of national guidelines, by officers belonging to a police department with lax rules on how these less-lethal weapons should be used.
As Tasers became an increasingly prevalent part of police officers' arsenals around the world, the U.S. Justice Department funded the Police Executive Research Forum to revise guidelines on their use in 2011. These rules are designed to encourage officers to know Tasers “should not be seen as an all-purpose weapon that takes the place of de-escalation techniques” – and to acknowledge the lethal potential of electronic control weapons (ECW) deployed for more than three standard shock cycles of five seconds each. “When Tasers were first introduced, it was thought they really could be used without causing any harm,” said PERF’s Chuck Wexler. “Subsequently, in our research and work, we realised that extended use of ECWs could cause injuries and death. That is why we stipulate restrictions on their use.”