The Taser Dilemma
Police weapon used to subdue can also kill
BY KAREN KENNEDY
A few months ago the Eugene Police Department announced that it planned to equip its officers with Taser stun guns. These weapons are promoted as being non-lethal, but the facts do not support this. As a community, we should be aware of the health and safety problems these weapons could pose.
According to Amnesty International, the number of people who have been killed by these weapons has been steadily increasing each year. Sixty-one people died in 2005 after being shocked by law enforcement Tasers. At least 152 people have died in the U.S. since 2001 after being shocked by the weapon.
Most of those who died had pre-existing medical conditions, were under the influence of drugs or medication and/or were subjected to multiple or prolonged electro-shocks. Among TASER-related deaths in the past year, for example, 40 were shocked more than three times and one person as many as 19 times. A majority of those who died went into cardiac or respiratory arrest at the scene (Amnesty International report, March 2006).
Taser stun guns fire 50,000 volts of electricity via two wires lead by a piercing dart from distances of up to 21 feet. Tasers can also be applied close up as a “touch stun gun.” Persons shot with a Taser experience severe pain and a loss of muscle control which causes them to collapse.
Taser International, the company that makes Taser stun guns, claims that their stun guns will reduce injuries and save lives by giving officers an alternative to using firearms and batons. The company encourages liberal use of its weapon, and promotes it as a non-lethal weapon that saves lives. Police departments are naturally attracted to this type of weapon.
Taser International grossly downplays safety concerns. There has been little public scrutiny of this weapon, no consistent standards or guidelines on its use and no independent medical research conducted on its safety.
Amnesty International supports the development of non-lethal alternatives to firearms, and believes that police officers should have the tools they need to do their jobs safely and effectively. However, Amnesty’s research has shown that police are using the weapons routinely rather than as a last resort, often to subdue unarmed, non-compliant individuals who do not pose a serious danger to themselves or others.
I welcome the EPD’s thoughtful pilot program to review safety and proper use of this weapon, and encourage the public to attend any public meetings regarding this issue. Providing our officers with better options other then the use of deadly force is something we can all support. However, in almost every case where Tasers might be used, there is no way to know if they would have been helpful in preventing death or causing death.
Karen Kennedy serves on the UO Senate and has been active in Amnesty International for more than 10 years. The UO chamber of AI is active during the school year. See www.amnesty.org