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

by Peter Moskos

October 21, 2009

But they told me it was safe!

The maker of Taser stun guns is advising police officers to avoid shooting suspects in the chest with the 50,000-volt weapon, saying that it could pose an extremely low risk of an "adverse cardiac event."

The advisory, issued in an Oct. 12 training bulletin, is the first time that Taser International has suggested there is any risk of a cardiac arrest related to the discharge of its stun gun.
Robert Anglen reports in the Arizona Republican.


Gotti Rules said...

I had a girl tell me she was safe but then it burned every time I went to go pee!

PCM said...

Shift commander at roll call asks, "Anybody have anything?"

Gotti says, "This horrible burning sensation when I pee!"

[Shift commander rolls his eyes.]

Ah, the good old days.

Marc S. said...

This is good in that it will give lawyers more ammo in wrongful death lawsuits. Hopefully it will cause departments to alter their taser policy, unfortunately, i have a feeling they will alter their policies badly.

One bad way they can alter their policy is by mandating shooting below the waist. This is totally detrimental to the officers manual of arms as everyone is taught to shoot center of mass. For that reason alone such a policy is unaceptable.

A better solution is simply to change the guidelines to bump the taser a lot closer to the sidearm on the force continuum. Then officers can continue to shoot center of mass, just in fewer, more justifiable scenarios.

Anonymous said...

Tasers are defined as "less lethal" force. Not non-lethal force. To me, the subtext of "less lethal" is "potentially lethal."

Therefore, what's the problem if a blast to the chest has a potential to cause heart problems? Bottom line is the suspect shouldn'ta fought with da cops.

And continuing along the less lethal vein, I believe Tasers trump the baton on the force option continuum. But if I swing my baton at the same moment John Q. Suspect makes a sudden movement and oops, my baton connects with his head (entering into deadly force territory) even though my target was the back of his knees, well, then what category does my baton fall under?

Anywho, I reiterate, bottom line is the subject shouldn'ta resisted. Not saying he deserves to die, but fights are dynamic situations with unpredictable outcomes. It's impossible to control the risk involved 100%.

That said, several years ago, my department received Tasers. During the training, we were given the option of receiving a Taser blow to the chest, a drive stun to the back of the leg, or none at all. Within the months that followed the training, among those officers who opted for the prongs to the chest, two died of heart attacks. They were 35 and 38 years old. As many ten (aged late 20's to late 30's) sought emergency treatment for chest pain and heart palpitations.

Speculation and rumors about the Taser connection buzzed around the department, but that was the extent of it.

And now this.

Hm. Interesting.

PCM said...

That's all well and good. But what about when they're not fighting?

I've got nothing against the Taser, a less-lethal weapon, being used in appropriate situations. To me, a fight is an appropriate situation, given the low risk of death from Taser. Also any situation where lethal-force is an option, of course.

My problem is when the Taser is used, as it is all too often, as an alternative to non-lethal force.

It's wrong to use a potentially lethal weapon as a means of compliance when faced with a non-threatening suspect.

Police have hands. Police have batons. Police have pepper spray. All, used correctly, are non-lethal.

I know you could kill somebody with a baton. But honestly, I've never heard of a single case of a suspect dying from an accidentally misplaced police baton strike. Not one. I assume it's happened somewhere, but can you give me one example?

So I'm counting a well-used baton as non-lethal. The Taser is potentially lethal even when used correctly.

I'm strongly against Tasers in a "put you hands behind you back" situation when non-lethal force (or more talking) is always an option.

Anonymous said...

To further complicate things, officer-subject factors need to be taken into account when arguing against using Tasers in a non-lethal force situation. (or can officer-subject factors play a role whether or not deadly force is justified in a given situation)

I wrote the above comment to which you responded. I am a 100-pound female officer. I ride solo.

Quick story:

A few summers ago, I arrived on the scene of a fight in progress. A 6'2", 300 pounds 17-year-old kid was attacking his father on the stairs. As I advised on the air that I was on-scene, my only available back-up advised that he was coming from a location that was across town. Hearing the shouts from inside the house, I advised him to step it up but knew that in mid-afternoon traffic on a weekday it would still be a good five-ten minutes before he arrived, lights and sirens and all.

When I entered the house, the kid was still pummeling away at his middle-aged obese Hispanic father, who was sweating and gasping and begging for help. The kid ignored my orders to, in so many words, effing stop what he was doing. The kid's mother and sisters were screaming for me to do something, the kid's father was in poor health, had a heart condition, etc.

I warned the kid to get off his dad or he was getting the Taser. No way was I going hands-on with this maniac all by myself. I'm in good shape but he out-weighed me by 200 pounds and was in a crazed rage.

One more blow to dad's face and the kid got the prongs. Dad squirmed away and I got the kid in cuffs (after another Taser blast). My back-up got there about five minutes later.

Perhaps a non-lethal force situation, but one that could have quickly escalated if I tried to play hero. No doubt the kid coulda knocked me on my ass if I'd tried a compliance hold or some other empty hand control technique.

Incidentally, once in cuffs, the kid hastily apologized and it was yes-ma'am-no-ma'am after that. He was so polite and chubby that I wound up feeling horribly guilty (especially when I later removed a marble-sized chunk of flesh along with one of the Taser prongs) but I was confident that he was in such an emotional state I couldn't have handled it in any other way. HIs family assured me he had mental problems and were grateful I took the action I did. Lucky me.

Anyway, I think the Taser was the appropriate level of force in that situation given officer-subject factors and my concern for the dad.

But would the Taser still have been justified if there were two officers present or if I matched the kid in size and strength?

Bottom line is I think that in general, Tasers are a great weapon when used under appropriate circumstances, whatever that may be.

I just don't think they should be tested on officers.

PCM said...

I couldn't agree more.

Again, the main objection I have is using the Taser in a passive non-compliance situation when other alternatives are available.