The ECD as a deadly weapon?

The UN Convention Against Torture has stated that the TASER "could result in severe pain amounting to torture and in certain cases could even be lethal."

Despite the ACLU’s public position that the Electronic Control Device (ECD) has a role in law enforcement, albeit as a weapon that should be placed higher on the force continuum, the reality may be more subtle and condemning.

Alessandra Solar Meetz, executive director of the ACLU in Arizona, told the press in July 2011 that “[t]here is no question that Tasers are less lethal than revolvers and guns. But what’s dangerous is when they use them as a compliance tool...”

The ACLU of Vermont has a slightly different public view and, in their “Focus on Tasers” release, believes officers should only resort to a TASER when the “use of deadly force is justified.” This position is similar to the one taken by the ACLU of Northern California. In their “Conducted Energy Devices Guidelines and Limitations” they recommend officers use a TASER only when there is an “imminent threat of serious physical harm.”

In 2005, TASER International voluntarily stopped using the term “non-lethal” in their advertising, a term adopted from the Department of Defense because the tool’s intent was not to kill. In 2009, TASER recommended that police avoid firing the electronic control device at a subject’s chest because of the possibility of cardiac arrest.

The ACLU’s position that the ECD is inherently dangerous, but acceptable as a deadly force weapon, is likely disingenuous. It’s more probable that the ACLU would rather see a moratorium and an eventual ban on the device’s use.

The ACLU persistently mentions in many public statements a United Nations report that contends that using the ECD is a “form of torture” and a possible violation of the UN Convention Against Torture. The United Nations' Committee Against Torture — an amalgamation of 10 reported torture “experts” — arrived at this conclusion in 2007 while discouraging Portugal from purchasing the TASER X26.

Though the original report is difficult to find on the internet, the account is often quoted in the press as concluding, without any accompanying facts or studies, that “the use of these weapons causes acute pain, constituting a form of torture.” It wasn’t long before National Public Radio picked up the report’s questionable conclusion.

More recently the UN Committee has, apparently, modified its position. In 2010 it questioned the use of ECDs in detention facilities and this time stated that the TASER “could result in severe pain amounting to torture and in certain cases could even be lethal,” a change not noted in ACLU literature.

Such an open-ended definition of torture, constantly referenced by the ACLU, should give even common sense critics pause. If the ACLU finds success in having the courts rule an ECD to be a deadly weapon, then it would likely use that decision to incrementally and selectively litigate for its complete elimination due to its use as an alleged instrument of torture. 

About the author

Retiring after nearly 22 years of active duty in the Army, Lance Eldridge worked as the director of a law enforcement training academy and served as a rural patrol deputy and patrol officer in Colorado. While in the military, he held leadership positions in a variety of organizations and has written extensively about US military strategy, operations, and history. He is a graduate of the US Army's Command and General Staff College and the Norwegian Staff College. He holds a Masters Degree in History and a Masters Degree in Strategic Intelligence. He has taught graduate and undergraduate courses in national security strategy, European regional security, US history, and terrorism. He now works in northern Virginia.

Contact Lance Eldridge.

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