About . . . . Classes . . . . Books . . . . Vita . . . . Blog. . . . Podcast

by Peter Moskos

July 13, 2009

"Excited Delirium"

Can you die from it? Does it exist? The Taser company, not surprisingly, says yes. Because if and when people die from "excited delirium," there seems to be a good chance it will happen after being Tasered.

Laura Sullivan of National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" has a good report on this.

Here's part one and part two.

(Thanks to Marc)


Anonymous said...

Tasers have become very controversial here in Canada due to a number of deaths. Canadian law enforcement has also put forth the same non-sense about "excited delirium" despite the fact that no such medical term or condition exists. The only research that speaks to the safe use of Tasers that Canadian law enforcement has put forth was produced by the manufacturer of Tasers. This is embarrassing. Either Canadian law enforcement is extremely naive or they are offering up Taser company research to cover their butts because they didn't do enough of their own research before hastily introducing Tasers into the system.
"excited delirium" come on! Open a damn text book for Christ sakes!


-From Canada

PCM said...

Tasers can kill and that has to be taken into account before their use.

Tasers do have a few good purposes:

1) In lethal-force situations, as an alternative to shooting.

2) When backup is a long way away.

But as a compliance device? Or when officers outnumber an unarmed suspect? Please.

Anonymous said...


I strongly recommend you that you wikipedia the Robert Dziekanski Taser Incident. There is also Youtube footage that you should see. I realize that it received no coverage the States, but here in Canada this is big news. A man was tasered 5 times by the RCMP, and died as a result. There are allegations of a cover-up because home video footage directly contradicted officers' accounts of what happened.The officers were also very quick to resort to use of the taser. There was a government inquiry. Keep in mind that the RCMP holds a special place in the minds of Canadians. It is a symbol of national identity. Any scandals will have greater significance than with other law enforcement agencies. This scandal along with a number of others seriously damaged the reputation of the RCMP in the eyes of the public.

On another note, I seem to recall that when Tasers were pitched to the Canadian public just a few years ago they were sold as an alternative to deadly force. For instance a deranged man with a knife could be Tasered instead of shot. But it seems to me that what they are actually used for is to achieve simple compliance. The Dziekanski case is example. The "Don't Tase me, Bro" incident in Florida where John Kerry was speaking is an example, as well as that incident with the naked guy who refused to put his clothes on at that outdoor music festival which was all over Youtube. This is not how the Taser was advertised to the Canadian public.

Thanks again,
-From Canada

PCM said...

I know that incident well. I wrote about it here.

It's pretty much the perfect case study showing why the taser in inappropriate as a compliance device.

But if it weren't for the lies and cover-up, it probably would have been considered a "good" tase. It could have been by the book. That book is wrong and needs to be rewritten.

Sergeant T said...

"Medical Condition or Legal Cover?" Nice to see NPR using the same 10 cent journalism techniques pioneered by guys like Geraldo Rivera.

"But if you're talking about police abuse — beating him to death, or hog-tying — the answer is yeah, you can tell the difference," Di Maio says. Either way, it doesn't matter, says Dawn Edwards of the Ella Baker Center, a police watchdog group in Oakland, Calif." Yea, damn the actual evidence, we're just going to draw the conclusions that fit our narrative.

"Medical Condition or Legal Cover?" Because medical examiners are always willing to do the cops a solid and grease the reports.

Let's set aside for a moment the hundreds (thousands? Who knows) of people that are alive today because police had the option of using a TASER instead of a firearm. (In the county I worked in TASERS were removed due to a death in a neighboring jurisdiction. Officer-involved fatal shootings when up 200% the next year.) Many of the deaths related to TASER use result in training and employment mistakes. No, you shouldn't be shocking the old man 6 times if there isn't active resistance. Human failings and training mistakes should not be the only measure of a weapon's utility. People were dying from ED long before TASERs came along.

As for ED, the only people that have doubts about its existence are people that have never worked the street. Mr. Balaban of the ACLU says the AMA and APA don't recognize it. How many years did it take the AMA to recognize HIV? The APA listed homosexuality as a mental illness until the '80s. The AMA and APA are good benchmarks but they aren't omniscient. And not everyone with ED dies, so those that present and survive don't make headlines or medical examiner reports. Got a hypothetical for the folks out there, and I'm not fishing for a particular answer: Would you rather cops use a TASER (appropriately) on someone presenting ED or use batons/OC spray/hard hand strikes? Bear in mind We don't have a third option available.

PCM said...

Maybe I'm old fashioned or just plain crazy, but I'd prefer the latter (hands, batons, pepper spray).

Tasers should be avoided in non-lethal situations. Four officers can take on one man. Why? Because they can kill. That they only kill rarely is not good enough. And I'm not even talking about "excited delirium." Sometimes people just have a weak ticker (like the guy in the Vancouver airport). That's not a crime.

Taser are not "less than lethal." They're "less lethal." And police should be trained with that in mind.

If police can save a life with a taser instead of a gun, great. But if police have to shoot in a lethal-force situation, I don't have a problem with that (but I guess that's the old cop in me).

If you put yourself into a lethal-force situation, it's on you. But if you're just non-compliant, that's no reason to be killed. Ever.

In other words, I'd prefer three guys with knives they wouldn't put down to be shot and killed than for one unarmed person flipping out or refusing follow orders to be accidentally killed with a taser.