Oct. 12, 2010 -- Tasers have become a tool for nearly every police department in the country. Now an advanced generation of Tasers, which pack more firepower, is heating the debate over Tasing safety and potential misuse of the devices. More than 400 people have died in Taser-related incidents since 2001.
On Oct. 4th, a Louisiana man in Lafayette Parish died after he was Tased. On Oct. 7th, a teenager in Philadelphia collapsed and died after being Tased. Curt Goering, from Amnesty International says Tasers are being misused.
Goering says those being Tased "are inherently subject to abuse."
The New Power of Tasers
Now the new generation of Tasers is raising concerns: The X3 handgun-style Taser, is capable of subduing three suspects at once.
The newest models deliver the current to the body much more efficiently and consistently. Because the new handgun Taser has three cartridges, a police officer, in theory could deliver a triple hit to one suspect.
The Taser shoots two thin wires that hit a subject with metal hooks. The hooks stick into a suspects clothing or skin, delivering an electrical current of 600 volts, which causes all the skeletal muscles to contract. This essentially paralyzes the suspect for at least five seconds. But users can deliver a continuous charge for minutes by simply holding the trigger.
Some in the law enforcement community, including Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, say there is a need for more testing.
"When we're talking about new generations of technology, we need to know exactly what impact that has on the human body," Ramsey said.
Tasing Could Save Lives
Police often have a difficult time deciding whether or not to use a Taser. A day spent in Taser training with the Montgomery County Police Department in Maryland, shows the difficult, split-second choices that face police officers. Consider one scenario: An officer comes upon a man walking in an alley with a knife. The man does not respond to repeated commands to stop. What if the officer chooses not to use a Taser on him?
"You would have gotten stabbed," said Police Captain Alan Goldberg.
Most police point to independent studies, such as one published in 2008 by the National Institute of Justice, (NIJ) which show Tasers are not completely risk-free. But field experience with Taser-like devices indicates that exposure is safe and low risk in the vast majority of cases. The NIJ study said, "Law enforcement agencies need not refrain from deploying CEDs, provided the devices are used in accordance with accepted national guidelines."
The study also pointed out that it is often the people with pre-existing medical conditions who are vulnerable to death from Tasers. People also die from falling during the Tasing process, sometimes hitting their heads. The study shows that in most of the cases where death occurred, it was not because of electrical shock to the body. The Taser Company says a defibrillator is 140 times more powerful than a Taser.