Police officers carrying Tasers are more likely to apply force and/or get assaulted, according to a London study published in the journal Criminal Justice and Behavior.
Using data collected from nearly 6,000 incidents involving both Taser-armed and unarmed officers during 2016 in England and Wales, researchers found evidence of what they called the “weapons effect” – a psychological phenomenon in which the sight of a weapon incites aggressive behavior.
Even though the Tasers were rarely used, the number of use-of-force incidents involving officers carrying the stun weapons was 48 percent higher than incidents involving officers on unarmed shifts. At the same time, unarmed officers accompanying Taser carriers used force 19 percent more often than those on Taser-free control shifts.
“Within this theoretical framework and given the mature body of evidence on ‘weapons effects,’ it is perhaps unsurprising that we found significant increases in the use of force by, and assaults on, officers in this study,” concluded the study, authored by lead researcher Barak Ariel of the University of Cambridge and five others.
The researchers recommended that officers conceal their Tasers to control for the “weapons effect.”
1,000 Deaths Involving Tasers in 2017
In the U.S., Tasers are commonly used by police officers as non-lethal tools to neutralize the threat of violence by suspects. However, a 2017 report by Reuters documented more than 1,000 deaths involving Tasers, nearly half of which resulted in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Last year, a man who was set on fire by an officer’s stun gun in 2015 settled his excessive-force lawsuit against police in Virginia for $6.5 million.
Also last year a Pennsylvania man who was videotaped being Tasered by police while sitting on a curb filed a lawsuit against the department for use of excessive force.
In response to these and other incidents, some U.S. police forces have sharply reduced the user of Tasers.
The Cambridge researchers said their findings suggest that the “weapons effect” phenomenon may apply to other weapons.
A full copy of the study can be purchased here.
J. Gabriel Ware is a contributing writer to The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.