Study: TASERs safe for police work
The Associated Press
SEATTLE — Tasers and similar stun guns, increasingly popular among law enforcement agencies nationwide, are generally safe for police to use, according to new research.
In what was called the first large independent study of injuries from Tasers, researchers reviewed 962 cases in six locations. Nearly all the cases they found resulted in no injuries or minor ones such as scrapes and bruises.
"This is the first time we've got an accounting of how likely it is that you'll be seriously injured by one of these devices," said lead researcher, Dr. William P. Bozeman, an emergency medical specialist at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine.
He presented the research Monday at a meeting of the American College of Emergency Physicians in Seattle.
While the research found that stun guns are safe, Bozeman cautioned, "These are serious weapons. They absolutely have the potential to injure or kill people."
In the cases reviewed for the study, two people died, but autopsies found neither death was related to use of a Taser. Three people were hospitalized after being zapped, two with injuries from falls. It was unclear whether a third hospitalization was related to the use of a stun gun, according to the researchers.
Stun guns deliver temporarily disabling bursts of electricity for several seconds. Police say they help avoid hand-to-hand struggles that can injure officers and citizens. They have become common in recent years, with the weapons in use by thousands of law enforcement agencies.
Taser use by police drew national attention recently after video circulated widely of police shocking a university student in Florida who persistently questioned Sen. John Kerry during a forum and refused to yield the microphone.
Taser critics say the devices are prone to misuse by police who fire them too readily at people who may be mentally ill, high on drugs or vulnerable because of medical conditions.
"Those statistics were surprising to me, considering the number of injuries, including to police officers, that have been reported," said Lauren Regan, executive director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center in Eugene, Ore., which opposes the weapons.
By July, Amnesty International USA had tallied 250 cases in six years in which people died after being stunned with Tasers, but the group didn't track the individual causes of death.
According to the manufacturer, Taser International Inc., the devices have been listed as a contributing factor in about 12 deaths.
Dr. Robert R. Bass, executive director of the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems and a leader in the college's Tactical Emergency Medicine Section, said he was familiar with an earlier analysis that covered 597 cases.
He said he found "somewhat reassuring" the findings that the devices are safer than individual reports of death and injury would suggest.
The cases in the study were compiled by six law enforcement agencies ranging in size. Each had a defined policy on Taser use and injury reporting, and a doctor who works with officers and anyone who is subdued with the devices.
The doctor was responsible for submitting each case to the research team.
The cities were not identified.
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The study was paid for by the National Institute of Justice, the Justice Department's research and development branch. But the institute had no part in the study's design or analysis, Bozeman said.