Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Indiana University study supports Taser hazards

Cincinnati.com this morning carried a story about an article published by American Heart Association journal, "Circulation," which presents the first ever scientific, peer-reviewed evidence that Tasers can cause cardiac arrest and death in a study done by Indiana University electrophysiologist Dr. Douglas Zipes of eight cases involving the TASER X26 ECD.

Tasers are used by law enforcement agencies across Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky such as the Cincinnati police and the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, and about 16,000 agencies, internationally, use them, in part because they've been being marketed as non-lethal deterrents, according to the article, administering an electric shock that usually temporarily immobilizes a person's muscles so officers can gain control of the subject. But since 2001 more than 500 people have died following Taser stuns, the article says, according to Amnesty International, which said in February that stricter guidelines for their use was "imperative." ( Amnesty report )

The device's manufacturer, Taser International, has changed safety warnings over the years, and since 2009 has warned law enforcement agencies to avoid stunning suspects in the upper chest as a way of alleviating concerns that the weapon's volt shock could affect the heart.

This morning's article references the Nov. 2003 incident with Nathaniel Jones at the University of Cincinnati, which, it says, prompted campus police to stop using the device, but, in fact, an LLRX article last summer noted that "Tasers have been around for decades, the device first having been developed in 1967. Law enforcement agencies began adopting the devices extensively in the 1990s as they searched for a less-lethal alternative to firearms as a means of subduing violent or escaping persons, as well as a means of reducing injuries sustained by officers when attempting to physically control suspects. Indeed, in the incident that sparked the 1992 Los Angeles riots, Los Angeles Police Department officers used Tasers to subdue Rodney King during a traffic stop.

"What most sparked public outrage in the Rodney King incident was the beating that the LAPD officers gave him as he lay on the ground; officers kicked him repeatedly and hit him with their nightsticks even as he offered no resistance. Whether because the videotape had not captured the administration of the Tasers or because they were not as well known or understood at the time as kicks and nightstick blows, few reports of the beating singled out the Taser use as part of the excessive force used against King.

"But as Taser use becomes more and more widespread among law enforcement agencies and the rationale for their use has changed from providing an alternative to lethal force to providing a means of controlling recalcitrant members of the public, legal challenges to their use by law enforcement--among other things--have been mounted."

"This study doesn't say that we should abandon using Taser devices," Dr. Zipes, who is also a professor emeritus of medicine with the Krannert Institute of Cardiology at the Indiana School of Medicine, said in an Indiana University Health news release,
MSN Health reported, "but it does show that users should exercise caution, avoid chest shocks and monitor the person after shock to ensure there are no adverse reactions."

The New York Times and U.S. News & World Report have more.
Abstract & Access to PDF purchase of Dr. Zipes article here

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