Three Taser Deaths Jolt Police Departments

The President isn’t the only person who had a bad weekend. The folks who make Tasers are doing some fancy bobbing and weaving too after three people died as a result of being Tasered by police. Which is why they now call them ‘less lethal’ weapons instead of the old ‘less than lethal’ moniker.  Some people just can’t handle being zapped. Like even life-saving medicines, there’s going to be a certain percentage of bad outcomes …

But three in a weekend is getting some attention. Police forces around the country are reviewing how they use Tasers and in what circumstances. For years, they’ve used the “billy club” standard. Any situation in which a cop would previously have used a nightstick is an appropriate time to reach for a Taser when a dude needs to be subdued.

Sure, there may have been other factors involved in Taserees’ deaths.

In some cases, the tasers are only tangentially related or unrelated to the actual cause of death, and that may be the case in the three incidents from this weekend. But recent studies have shown that the weapons can have an outsized impact on people with health problems or who are very high on drugs and in a state of “excited delirium.”

Which presents a problem – isn’t this really the Taser’s raison d’etre? Aren’t belligerent drunks, dusted wackos and other irrationally exuberant types exactly the target demographic for Taser deployment?

It probably won’t surprise you that like McDonalds, corporate jets, hedge funds or anything else that reliably does what it’s designed to do, Tasers have a dedicated group of critics.

Tasers contributed to some 351 US deaths between 2001 and 2008, says Amnesty International, which adds that 90 percent of those tasered were unarmed at the time they were electrocuted. The website Truth Not Tasers claims that 39 people have died in relation to “conducted energy devices (CEDs)” this year in the United States, an average of five per month.

On the other hand, 99.7 percent of people who are tasered suffer no serious injuries, according to a May report from the National Institute of Justice. “The risk of human death due directly or primarily to the electrical effects of CED application has not been conclusively demonstrated,” says the report.

All of which has the people at Taser and police departments reexamining rules of engagement and the Taser models they’re using.

After releasing an advisory in 2009 urging police not to shoot suspects in the chest, Taser International is now marketing the old version of its gun, which allows for only a five second blast of current before officers have to make the decision to hit the suspect again. A newer version of the gun allowed officers to apply continuous current, which the NIJ said in a separate May report has been associated with deaths.

There’s no question that cops unnecessarily light up “uncooperative” citizens now and again. It’s easy to reach for the Taser and rationalize that juicing someone (probably) won’t have any long-term effects. Whereas thumping a guy’s skull – and the resulting trip to the ER for sutures – is gonna leave a mark.

Any tool you give law enforcement will be overused or abused by a certain percentage of officers. But taking a decidedly less lethal tool away from beat cops will only mean more instances when pistols are pulled and fired when something other than deadly force could have done the job. And no one really wants that.

comments

  1. avatar Braden Lynch says:

    Note: I have a TASER C2 to increase my options, without having to first shoot an assailant in self-defense, although be advised the later might be my first response!

    I read a while back about the introduction of all less lethal tools for police encouraging their overuse. It’s an imperfect world. Still, a TASER is less likely to have the lasting side effects of multiple 9mm holes, or a baton beat down, just to take someone into custody. My advice, don’t pick a fight with police and it will be better for everyone.

    Also, I believe that the true benefit for the TASER is that it is effective on “belligerent drunks, dusted wackos and other irrationally exuberant types” because it is not really a pain control/submission device, rather a neuromuscular transmission blocker.

    1. avatar matt says:

      Did you even watch the video? 5 cops on 1 fan. The fan wasnt violent, he was just running around and didnt pose a threat to anyone. The cops/security were all just too lazy, out of shape, and uncoordinated to catch 1 person. The cop didnt even get his first shot on target and had to reload. The money spent on the tazer (and most likely a lawsuit defense) would have been better applied on getting the cops liposuction.

      Regarding your advice to not fight the police, what would you do if you found yourself on the Danziger bridge?

      1. avatar crypticguise says:

        What would YOU do?

    2. avatar Noway says:

      “My advice, don’t pick a fight with police and it will be better for everyone.”

      Alert readers will of course note that the problem still exists when cops pick the fight. Or more accurately, sadistically use force in a circumstance they should not.

      1. avatar Gossven says:

        The real advice should be don’t pick a fight with anyone and it will be better for everyone. Unfortunately we can’t control the behavior of other so we will have to make do with controlling our own behavior. At least until Apple releases their new iMind Control ray, then Steve Jobs will control our behavior.

      2. avatar Regular Syzed Wayne says:

        +1

    3. avatar Alan says:

      The trouble is, it is remarkably difficult to restrain someone who does want to be restrained without causing injury to that person.

      I am speaking from experience here, as a retired 20 year cop. Someone who is delusional or aggressive and not willing to comply, add a cop or three trying to retrain them and get them into handcuffs, and even if you have overwhelming superiority in personnel, the act of physically forcing someone to the ground and forcing their arms behind their back to get into handcuffs is very likely to cause significant injury.

      Prior to Tasers, the choice was to physically overwhelm the person and injure them, or for the one-on-one confrontation, to use batons, fists and feet to beat the person into submission.
      A physical confrontation almost always resulted in one or both parties going to the hospital.

      Lastly, the issue of cocaine psychosis or excited delirium is this (and I taught on sudden in custody deaths and excited delirium):
      Before the advent of the Taser, people suffering from these conditions suffered sudden cardiac death while fighting with the cops.
      The Taser isn’t creating the problem, the problem (excited delirium) causes the police contact. The excited delirium almost always results in a hostile confrontation, and without the Taser, death from the physical exertion pushing them over the edge into cardiac arrest.
      In one case I was personally on, the guy was fighting with paramedics and coded ON THEIR STRETCHER, in the ambulance. They were unable to get him back (that is a common attribute with excited delirium).

      There is no way to parse data, but I am willing to wager that avoiding the all-out, knock down drag out fight with the cops (and the attendant sudden cardiac death risk) actually has resulted in FEWER deaths with Taser usage.

      1. avatar Noway says:

        Ah, the Thin Blue Line Canard trotted out.

        No one is arguing that we need cops to go back to clubbing people. The argument is over whether police are starting to use tasers where they should not, out of a combination of hyper-aggressive policing and laziness.

        1. avatar Alan says:

          Norway says: Ah, the Thin Blue Line Canard trotted out.

          A canard, eh? You clearly have no agenda:
          “[W]hether…police are starting to use tasers where they should not, out of a combination of hyper-aggressive policing and laziness.”

          There was no canard there. The article discusses the use of Tasers, and specifically deaths from excited delirium.
          YOU may want to make this discussion one about bashing cops (as is clearly your wont from the tone of your posts). The target of my post, however, was to the remainder of the people on this discussion who seem to actually wish to learn new facts and use those to form a reasoned idea as to the proper use and proper limits of Taser deployment.

          So, go crawl back in your hole.

        2. avatar Kukui23 says:

          Alan, you obviously believe cops can do no wrong. Everyone else who has had to live in the real world has seen more than their share of LAZY cops and LAZY police work. I would not put it past some cops that if firing your pistol didn’t trigger an instant inquiry, more would use it to stop fleeing suspects because they don’t want to run. As it is, SWAT members don’t take into consideration the houses around them when filling the home’s occupants with lead, or the fact the suspect might not need to be subdued with paramilitary force.

          Regardless, it is well known sending thousands of volts intot he body can EASILY cause heart defibrullation. So, don’t act like it’s not a factor… it is.

          Show me a cop without a spare tire and I’ll show you one who can catch a fleeing suspect. If he can’t, then perhaps he is not up to the physical standards his job requires.

          In the meantime, a tazer should only be used when a suspect needs to be arrested and multiple attempts have been made to subdue the suspect. As in the “Don’t Taze Me Bro” incident, the tazing was completely unwarranted. The man was already being held and about to cooperate when an officer shot him anyway. For what purpose? Field justice? It’s bull and it’s being used way too often in situations where that kind of force is flat out not necessary.

        3. avatar Alan says:

          First, please don’t presume to know what I believe. I never claimed that cops can do no wrong, and in fact I know that is not the case. Cops are humans, and as such, some are better than others, and cops make mistakes.

          Your statement: Regardless, it is well known sending thousands of volts intot (sic) he body can EASILY cause heart defibrullation (sic). So, don’t act like it’s not a factor… it is.
          is simply incorrect.
          You are making claims that are not substantiated by the facts.

          Voltage is irrelevant. Kids routinely put their hands on VanDeGraff generators putting out millions of volts, but at essentially no amperage.
          Tasers are similar. 1,200 volts sustained volts at essentially no amps.

          Tens of thousands of cops (maybe over a hundred thousand) have been Tasered during the certification process. Not a single one has had a medical issue. Why not? What is different?

          The issue here is not about bashing cops, but the scientific and statistical evidence as to whether Tasers are a net positive or a net negative in terms of injuries and deaths.
          And I maintain that the issues with in custody deaths predated the invention of the Taser, and the Taser probably has resulted in fewer deaths than if they were not in place.

          By the way, defibrillation is a *good* thing, it’s *fibrillation* that’s a bad thing.

        4. avatar Randy says:

          Wrong on this count “Tens of thousands of cops (maybe over a hundred thousand) have been Tasered during the certification process. Not a single one has had a medical issue. Why not? What is different?” Five cops sued Taser International from injuries sustained while being tased in the academy. One officer sustaind spinal fractures since his reaction to being tased was so violent. The sample size of subjects is so convoluted (they use healthy, drug free and in shape individuals), that we can’t really ascertain the harm they do. And these were in shape drug free OFFICERS of the law who sued the company. Get your facts straight. This was in a controlled situation with the subjects heart rate normal. Most taser use is done with the subject in a heightened state.

  2. avatar Frank Williams says:

    Let’s not forget the guy on CSI who burst into flames when he was tasered…

  3. avatar Ralph says:

    Cops should go back to beating the hell out of people with nightsticks and leave the electric stuff alone.

    1. avatar Tom says:

      Batter up!

  4. avatar Rebecca says:

    I’m curious; does anyone have statistics on how many taserings have happened in the same 2001-2008 period? I wonder what the successful taser:death by taser rate is?

  5. avatar TTACer says:

    “target demographic”

    lulz

  6. avatar JOE MATAFOME says:

    I’m with Ralph, leave the taser at home and tune the bad guy up with a good old fashioned night stick. When the fans see these fools catch a beating, they will think twice before going on to the field.

  7. avatar killer99 says:

    TTAT: The Truth About Tasers.

  8. avatar Sid says:

    Rebecca is on point. The MSM never stays with a story longer than the posted headline which is usually an accusation. What most people hear is that a Taser caused a death. There is no headline when the forensic pathologist announces that the “victim” was riding a lethal drug high or had a heart condition.

    Tasers, properly used, do not cause deaths. There is not enough electricity to cause a life-threatening effect. But when used improperly, it is just an electronic beating.

    I agree with the author’s clsoing remarks. Taking Tasers away is jsut removing a tool. When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail.

    1. avatar John Grisham says:

      unless they had/have a heart condition, which would/could let them live the remainder of their lives without death by a cop. umm, duh?

    2. avatar Alan says:

      Sometimes, when the only tool you have is a hammer, it’s best to step back and consider leaving the nail alone!

  9. avatar Slick Nick says:

    Clearly he was not tasered. Being an avid watcher of Cops that is not the reaction of someone being tased. Also, the cop holsters the gun to apply handcuffs which would have still been attached to the dude and not likely protocol.

    That aside, by far the best part of the clip is the bottom left security guard giving chase, turning on a dime, and then going in for a stern scolding.

    1. avatar alittlesense says:

      You do realize, of course, that the TV show “Cops” is heavily edited to present the best possible view of the law enforcement personnel appearing in the show.

  10. avatar Chuck Pelto says:

    TO: All
    RE: Tasers

    They ARE lethal.

    The question becomes….

    ….who are the fools that don’t think so?

    Regards,

    Chuck(le)
    P.S. The stupid people who control the Denver PD, won’t let them use ‘saps’. So NOW they use steel rod ‘asps’. And this is ‘better’?

    1. avatar poppymann says:

      The irony of Texas is that I’m better off legally shooting someone than using an ASP since they are illegal here.

  11. avatar math dunce says:

    In answer to Rebecca, you might arrive at an estimation of the total number of tasered individuals by the following math:
    Per article:
    351 lethal uses
    99.7% non serious effect uses
    Calculation:
    100% – 99.7% = .3% Assuming all non-lethal uses were in the 99.7% category (which is just that, an assumption), we divide 351 by .003 to arrive at an approximation – 117,000 non serious effect uses of a Taser.

  12. avatar Rob says:

    Regarding your advice to not fight the police, what would you do if you found yourself on the Danziger bridge?

    I haven’t seen any answers to this question.

  13. avatar Dennis says:

    I briefly was in law enforcement between military enlistments and generally support police in most matters. That said, I see an increasing tendency on the part of police to use the Taser more than they probably should. I personally saw a trio of police officers taser an elderly man who was confused, but not a danger to the officers. He did not appear to be under the influence, but more likely suffering from mental disturbance. I failed to see the need for three healthy officers, none appearing to be over 35, to use the Taser rather than restraining him and cuffing him.

    Police departments are under increasing pressure to scale back some of the excesses (at least in the general public viewpoint) and better training in the use of the Taser is essential. This, coupled with better all around training and use of unnecessary force, will avoid the absolute end result of stricter usage imposed from without the department.

  14. avatar Dennis says:

    Should have read “avoidance of unnecessary force” rather than as posted.

    As an addendum, I am increasingly disturbed by the proliferation of paramilitary operations, many resulting in lawsuits, and more pointedly the death of both innocent homeowners and police officers. I know they incidents are small in number and magnified beyond necessity, but it appears as if every department of any size now has a paramilitary operations unit to do building entry. I have read far too many accounts of improper police department actions to not be concerned.

    1. avatar Kukui23 says:

      “magnified beyond necessity”

      Not Magnified enough. Many of these raids that go faulty have really bad police work and rubber stamped approvals. THAT is what needs to stop.

  15. avatar JohnMc says:

    My biggest complaint is not with the Taser, but the departments choice of that weapon when they should not even consider its use. For example. The St. Petersburg PD deploys Tasers. Have you seen the demographic of St. Petersburg, Fla? Its geriatric in the extreme. Does anyone think it wise to place a Taser in the hands of a officer in a population that would be highly susceptible to deadly outcomes in the encounter?

  16. avatar JorgXMcKie says:

    As for the guy in the video, there should be the misdemeanor crimes of *ssholery in the first, second, and third degree. The punishment would be a bare-buttocked caning in the stadium and tickets would be sold. First come, first served.

  17. avatar Eric Rasmusen says:

    Alan’s comment above is very good. The old alternatives to Tasers– fighting, basically– are also dangerous to people with bad hearts. I’d like to see some stats on how often in the pre-taser days suspects died of hearts attacks, etc. while scuffling with police. I’m sure that data’s available somewhere– a good dissertation topic.

  18. avatar DonM says:

    Cops should use locustwood when necessary. Electrons are less predictable, though oh so convenient. Of course if I get in a fight with a cop, when the cop has the intent to commit illegal assault under color of authority, it will be an unfair one from the cop’s perspective.

  19. avatar Larry Sprague says:

    In Savannah, all of the tasers have cameras on them. Thus the cops know that any usage is going to be reviewed in minute detail. So far, I have not heard of any excessive use.

  20. avatar Luc says:

    I’ve fractured my skull before & can say it was not pleasant. I spent 6 months on workers comp, was in pain, got a speech impediment & lost my sense of smell & taste (I got some of it back). My neurologists & hematologists told me I was fortunate, that the fracture & internal bleeding could have left me a lot worse off. That was just from falling backwards onto concrete once. Being hit in the head with batons would likely be worse.

    Given the option, I’d take a taser ride over a clubbing every single time without exception. Blunt force trauma to the head is not something you can walk away from, it’ll likely effect you the rest of your life.

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