Tasers–a widely used electronic stun weapon–are the subject of a highly critical new report by Amnesty International. The human rights organization is calling on governments to limit their deployment to life-threatening situations or to suspend their use.
Tasers were legalized use in Michigan in December of 2002. A bill authorizing their use alongside other “less than lethal” weapons such pepper spray was one of outgoing Republican John Engler’s last acts. Since that time, they have been adopted by a number of police departments in Michigan, including the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD). The GRPD adopted Tasers in 2004 and has since gradually expanded the number of officers that carry them.
Across the United States, 334 people died between 2001 and August of 2008 after being shot with Tasers. The report finds that 90% of those who died after being shot with a Taser were either unarmed or did not pose a threat. Many were also subjected to repeated or prolonged shocks with the weapon that exceeded the five-second “standard” cycle recommended by the manufacturer.
For Amnesty International, this typifies the problems associated with the weapon. They are more lethal than many are led to believe and their ease of use–along with lesser restrictions governing their use–make them prone to abuse.
Tasers contributed to or caused the deaths of 50 of the 334 people who died after being shot with Tasers. The report also finds that “Taser shocks may exacerbate cardio-respiratory problems in individuals whose health is already compromised by drug abuse, exertion, heart disease, psychosis or positional restraint.” Moreover, “Some of those who died had no underlying disease or drugs in their system, but collapsed after being subjected to repeated or prolonged shocks and/or shocks to the chest, heightening concern that these factors may increase a risk of death or injury, even in relatively healthy individuals.”
The report titled “USA: Less than Lethal?” is available online.