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TASER Response to CBS Evening News

On April 5th, 2004, CBS Evening News ran a story titled, "Stun Gun Fatalities Rise." While the headline is spectacular, it's bit misleading as you will see below.

In their story, they state,

    "A CBS news investigation, confirmed by the company, shows some 40 people have died after being stunned. The company says the Taser is not to blame, because most of the victims were fighting with police, delirious or on drugs."

It’s not TASER International that says the TASER is not to blame – it's the medical examiners’ opinion in every single case across the country. In fact, the results for each fatality are available (View the PDF).

It’s important to put this all in perspective: According to the National Center for Health Statistics, there were 19,102 deaths from drug induced causes in 1999, of which at least 61.6% were caused directly by the drug overdose (this number excludes car accidents, interactions with known medical disorders, etc. – these are pure overdoses). Accordingly, there are approximately 11,766 deaths each year in the United States that can be attributed directly to drug overdoses.

Some of the predominant early symptoms of a toxic drug overdose include:

  • Excited delirium - a state wherein the subject exhibits irrational, violent, aggressive behavior
  • Hyperthermia – elevations in body temperature which frequently lead the individual to take their clothes off, even in colder temperatures

Further, it is highly likely that chemical irritants or baton strikes will not affect these individuals due to the mental state wherein they are not affected by traditional pain compliance techniques. Therefore, police officers will use the TASER energy weapons in the majority of these situations, as it is the most effective non-lethal weapon against motivated, pain tolerant subjects. Therefore, it should be clearly anticipated that TASER technology would be employed on significant numbers of the 11,000+ people who overdose each year.

    If a subject has ingested toxic levels of narcotics, the application of the TASER electrical current will NOT stop the ongoing biochemical reactions that will lead to his death.

If we assume that 20% of the people who overdose on drugs will exhibit excited delirium as one of the early symptoms, and that 20% of the time the police will use TASER energy weapons to subdue these people prior to the final stages of the toxic overdose, we can anticipate that approximately 470 people each year who have overdosed on toxic levels of drugs will be incapacitated with the TASER devices prior to their eventual death. Since only 6% of the individual police officers in the U.S. are using TASER devices as of today, we would expect to see 6% of 470, or 28 people each year would die of drug overdoses and be independently subjected to the TASER. Accordingly, the statistic that there have been forty in-custody deaths of individuals who were also hit with the TASER over the past four years is not unexpected nor indicative of a causal relationship. In fact, it’s well below the statistically expected number of 28*4 = 112 expected cases.

Therefore, it is simply not reasonable to draw a causal relationship between the use of TASER energy weapons and a drug overdose fatality. Using the simple mathematics above, the two will coincide for easily understood reasons that do not imply any causal impact of the TASER weapon in the death.

The TASER has a lower risk of injury than any other force option
A study of the TASER system by the Los Angeles Police Department found TASER technology to have the lowest injury rate of any force option. Figure 1 below shows the relative injury rate to both officers and suspects for different types of force used at the Los Angeles Police Department.

Note that the TASER non-lethal weapon significantly reduced the number of injuries to both officers and suspects – to zero in both cases. From a purely quantitative point of view, it is clear that the TASER system represents a lower risk of injury for both the officer and the suspect than more prevalent blunt impact techniques such as flashlight strikes, punches, and baton strikes.

Corroborating the results of the Los Angeles Police Department above, field studies at the Phoenix Police Department found that the injury rate to suspects fell by 67% department wide after they began deploying the TASER.

    In fact, suspect injury rates fell by 89% at the Denver Police Department since they began deploying the TASER within their current policy guidelines.

Perhaps more importantly, TASER technology saves lives. In the year 2000, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in Florida had 14 incidents where officers deployed lethal firearms. After deploying the TASER system, the number of shootings fell to zero in 2002. In Phoenix, Arizona, the number of lethal force incidents dropped by 50% after department-wide deployment of the TASER devices. In fact, over 412 specific incidents have been reported to TASER International, Inc. wherein the use of the TASER non-lethal weapon saved a subject’s life, either by preventing a likely escalation to lethal force or by preventing the subject from committing suicide.

Statistical analysis supports that approximately 1 out of 10 force reports are submitted to the TASER International Database. Accordingly, a reasonable and conservative estimate is that over 4,120 lives have been saved with TASER energy weapons.

As many lives as TASER energy weapons have saved, there’s remains one unfortunate, undeniable truth: As long as people continue to take illegal, dangerous drugs in toxic doses, people will continue to die in police custody regardless of how police subdue them.

Rick Smith
CEO, TASER International, Inc

  • View In Custody Deaths Coinciding with TASER Use (PDF Report)

    For more information on the safety issues of TASER non-lethal weapons, please visit www.taser.com

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