SAN FRANCISCO- Law enforcement agencies need tighter restrictions on Taser use to decrease the number of deaths from the stun guns, according to a new report released Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union.
"While the Taser stun gun has the potential to save lives ... it poses a serious health risk as long as it remains largely unregulated," the report by the ACLU of Northern California said.
At least 71 people in the U.S. and Canada died in Taser-related incidents between 1999 and September 2004. Seventy-seven people were killed between Oct. 1, 2004 and Sept. 23, 2005, according to the ACLU, which relied on statistics collected by The Arizona Republic newspaper.
The ACLU surveyed 79 law enforcement agencies in Northern and central California, according to spokesman Mark Schlosberg. Of those, 56 use Tasers and 54 agencies provided the ACLU with copies of their training materials and policies regarding stun gun use.
Among the nonprofit organization's major concerns was that only four departments regulate the number of times an officer may shoot someone with a Taser gun.
"In several deaths, people were shocked more than once," Schlosberg said. "That's a common factor."
Tasers use compressed nitrogen to shoot two probes as far as 21 feet (6.3 meters). The probes are connected to the weapon by high-voltage insulated wires. When the probes hit their target, the Taser transmits electrical pulses along the wires and into the body of the target.
Other ACLU findings included:
- Only four departments created their own training guides for the Tasers. The rest relied exclusively on materials produced by Taser International, which manufactures the stun guns.
- Some training manuals provided by the company were misleading and outdated.
- There's a lack of independent studies on safety issues.
"We're not suggesting that Tasers be banned," Schlosberg said. "They should only be used in life-threatening situations. ... They should adopt policies aimed at minimizing the chances that Tasers will lead to death."
The ACLU reported 15 Taser-related deaths in Northern and central California during the past year including Andrew Washington, 21, who died after Vallejo police shot him 17 times in three minutes. He was drunk and high on cocaine at the time, but the medical examiner acknowledged he did not know enough about the effects of stun gun shooting to rule it out as a factor in Washington's death.
"A lot of the people are under the influence of drugs," Schlosberg said, adding there's no independent research about the effects of stunning a drugged person.
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