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Using a Taser to subdue a violent suspect is safer than police batons and fists. That is the surprising conclusion of a study of incidents in which US police used force to tackle a person who was resisting arrest.
Several suspects have died in the US after being tasered, and human rights groups have spoken out against the weapons, also called conductive electrical devices (CEDs). But John MacDonald of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and colleagues have found they seem to result in fewer injuries than more conventional methods such as batons.
The team examined over 24,000 c
After controlling for factors such as the amount of resistance shown by the suspect, they found that Taser use reduced the overall risk of injury by 65 per cent.
In March of 2005, in “Tasers: A Reassessment” the Coalition for Justice and Accountability summed up the apprehension derived from the use of Tasers thusly;
“The Coalition for Justice and Accountability initially supported the use of Tasers, as an alternative to deadly force. Consequently, the Coalition expected to see a reduction in police use of deadly force. Instead we watched sadly as the number of officer-involved shootings spiked to near record levels - after a steady five-year decline – at the same time that police were shooting Tasers 10 times more than they used to shoot guns.”
Further, and more damning still;
“Taser International's questionable safety claims have been the source of most of their notoriety. The New York Times pointed out that the company's testing consists of tests on a single pig in 1996 and on five dogs in 1999. Company-paid researchers, not independent scientists, conducted the studies, which were never published in a peer-reviewed journal...no federal or state agencies have studied the safety, or effectiveness, of Tasers...Nor has any federal agency studied the deaths to determine what caused them....The few independent studies that have examined the Taser have found that the weapon's safety is unproven at best. The most comprehensive report, by the British government in 2002, concluded "the high-power Tasers cannot be classed, in the vernacular, as `safe.' " .
It was at this point that a new public relations effort began; thus appeared the able and willing Bill Bozeman, MD, Director, EMS/Pre-hospital Research, Medical Director, Forsyth County Tactical Medicine. I point out that ‘Tactical’ medicine is a salient term we will see appearing further on.
Per a report by Dr. Stephen Juan of The Register, “In 2006, Dr. Bozeman reportedly estimated the chance of dying after being shot by a Taser or stun gun as about one in 870 in the September 2005 issue of the Annals of Emergency Medicine. Within the article Dr Bozeman acknowledges that such an estimate is based on very little data. Nevertheless, medical studies suggest that more, not fewer deaths could result from the introduction of Tasers. Some worry that more deaths could occur since police may be more likely to use Tasers on a suspect thinking they are safer than handguns…
Instead, Tasers and stun guns are known to cause a suspect to suffer cardiac arrest, respiratory failure, malfunction of pace-makers, damaged eyes, injury to the central nervous system, and death. The death of an innocent fetus can occur as well as Tasers and stun guns can cause a miscarriage when used on a pregnant woman. Police would find it difficult, if not impossible to know if a female suspect is pregnant.”
In October 8th 2007 FOX News reports “Study Suggests Use of Tasers by Law Enforcement Agencies Is Safe” PRIOR to the release of the study. They reported that Bozeman said results from previous studies were limited by the use of animal models and of healthy police volunteers in training settings, not criminal suspects in real-world conditions.
The very next day, the report is publicized, “‘Largest ever’ study finds Tasers safe”
The rebuttals were quick and severely under reported;
The study was presented at the American College of Emergency Physicians' Scientific Assembly in Seattle on October 8th, 2007, but many notable ‘experts’ were left with more questions than answers, one source reports..,
…Nationally recognized Taser expert Aram James of the Coalition for Justice and Accountability (CJA) says, “The study concludes -- without supporting data -- that Tasers reduce injuries to both police and the individuals Tasered. But the authors offer no systematic data to support this conclusion.” James says that actually the study's own data belies their own conclusion of safety. The abstract reported 23% of 597 subjects received some sort of injury. “Nearly 1 in 4, hardly support for the proposition that Tasers are safe -- and when coupled with 293 Taser related deaths, a statistic conveniently ignored by the authors of this study, the conclusion that Tasers are safe is not only not true but in fact a lie of deadly proportions.”
Richard Konda, Executive Director of the Asian Law Alliance and CJA co-founder, says the study ignores the reality that some populations are at higher risk when Tased. “The study fails to mention the effect of Tasers on vulnerable populations, such as pregnant women, the elderly, the mentally ill, and those under the influence of drugs, who are far more likely to suffer serious injuries and even death as a result of being Tasered.” Konda, who's organization is supporting a ban of Tasers, says the evidence of the deadly effects of Tasers is already being acknowledged by law enforcement communities. He says, “Medical remedies to prevent death are being developed because Tasers kill. In Miami emergency medical technicians are spraying a sedative in the noses of Tasers victims or inject them with iced saline solutions. These protocols lead us to only one conclusion – that Tasers are deadly weapons and must be banned.”
James says the reason why the study does not appear to be independent is because it was, essentially, a law enforcement report, and points to several red flags. “First, it was conducted at six law enforcement agencies across the country, interestingly enough not disclosed. Why the secrecy? Secondly, the underlying police reports and any accompanying medical records were reviewed by ‘tactical physicians' who are closely connected to a law enforcement agenda. Finally, not mentioned anywhere in the press release related to this study is the companion piece put out by the Wake Forest Physicians Group. In a study dated September 4, 2007 -- the same doctors credited with the above study -- reported on a police officer who after volunteering to receive a 5 second Taser exposure, under very controlled circumstance, was Tased for 5 seconds and suffered a very serious and apparently permanently debilitating thoracic compression fracture. So much for Tasers being a low risk of injury weapon, if they’re unsafe for the cops they’re unsafe for us!”
Essentially I contend that the research done to date has been far from exhaustive, and there is reason to believe it is questionably biased. There is no independently published establishing a disconnection between Tasers and lethal outcome. In fact just recently, in June of this year a federal jury found that Taser International was liable for a persons’ death due to their own failure to adequately portray the dangers of the weapon.
Amnesty International reported “The degree of tolerable risk involving Tasers, as with all weapons and restraint devices, must be weighed against the threat posed. It is self-evident that Tasers are less injurious than firearms where officers are confronted with a serious threat that could escalate to deadly force. However, the vast majority of people who have died after being struck by Tasers have been unarmed men who did not pose a threat of death or serious injury when they were electro-shocked. In many cases, they did not appear to have posed any significant threat at all”.
Of 291 reported deaths, AI has so far identified only 25 individuals who were reportedly armed with any sort of weapon when they were electro-shocked; such weapons did not include firearms.
AI acknowledged that there may be “stand-off” situations where Tasers in dart-firing mode could effectively be used as an alternative to firearms to save lives. However, the potential to use Tasers in drive-stun mode (where they are often used as “pain compliance” tools when individuals are already effectively in custody), and the capacity to inflict severe pain through multiple and prolonged shocks, renders the weapons inherently open to abuse.”
Later they continue “[Dr Bozeman’s] study says nothing about the misuse of Tasers or about the appropriateness of the use of Tasers in cases where death has followed Taser use. It does not appear to have measured specifically against possible risk factors (such as exposure to multiple or prolonged shocks, especially if combined with other restraints) or tested the effects of Tasers on specific groups, such as those intoxicated, agitated or with underlying heart disease.”
I think this essentially substantiates the fallacy of the notion that Tasers are safe and non-lethal because Taser International, the Police Force, and their associates all say so.