How safe are Taser Guns?

There have been at least nine deaths of which I am aware, after the use of Taser guns by police in Australia. The recent death of 21 year old Brazilian student Roberto Curti after being tasered 14 times by a rookie Sydney policeman on March 18, 2012, has ignited community concerns about the safety and appropriateness of the technique in this and other situations.

This post is not to criticize any individual, or the police in general, but to raise some issues that are relevant in the debate. Taser guns were introduced to the Australian police force as a life preserving alternative to the use of hand-guns in situations of extreme gravity affecting the safety of police and others. The pain of being shot by a Taser is extreme, a fact  South Australian Liberal leader Isobel Redmond can confirm. But it does not last, and it is argued that there are no long term ill effects as a result.

The Taser gun when discharged fires two barbs each of which delivers a 50,000 volt electric shock, but generates little electric current. It causes a violent stimulation of nerves in the vicinity, and extreme muscle spasm which causes the victim to lose balance and involuntarily fall to the ground in a manner which could be injurious. The risk of injury varies with the location of the hit, and the vulnerability of the victim.

There is anecdotal evidence that being hit in the vicinity of the heart, particularly in an individual with pre-existing heart problems or taking drugs, can initiate then or subsequently, a fatal heart attack. Temporary spasm of respiratory muscles and interference with normal breathing is also likely. Being hit in the head may result in an epileptiform convulsion  a potentially hazardous incident.

Some  statements that seem to be true:

  • The risks of injury increases with the number of times it is used.
  • When a Taser gun is fired particularly from a distance, the target at which it is aimed may not be hit, and there are instances of innocent bystanders receiving the barbs instead of the offender.
  • A Taser is not an appropriate technique for bringing unruly individuals under control. It increases their distress, they lose control, and their very well-being is threatened.

I would hope that we could see measures such as the following implemented:

  • That Taser guns not be used on individuals resisting arrest, but rather only in situations in which life is being threatened.
  • That the Taser gun should not be used more than twice in any one incident.
  • That medical back up be called for whenever possible, particularly when dealing with psychiatric disturbances.
  • That the use of a Taser gun be limited to those experienced police officers who have been trained in its use and the risks involved. Preferably those receiving accreditation to use a Taser should themselves do what Isobel Redmond heroically did, and submit to experiencing what it is like themselves.


Categories: Community Issues

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