The use of Taser guns is increasing. Police departments continue to buy more and more of them. Just in the month of December, 2008, police departments in Maryland, Florida, New York, Michigan and Pennsylvania purchased new electric stun guns. Meanwhile, the police in Durham, N.C., plan to double their existing inventory of Tasers from 110 to 235, and a police chief in the Atlanta metro area hopes to add 1,000 more stun guns.
The Taser stun gun is the most common brand of CED, conductive energy device, which fires 50,000 volts of electricity through its target [person] from as far away as 35 feet. This causes uncontrollable muscle contraction and temporary immobilization.
Tasers are considered safe by the police, a safe alternative to guns or other types of force such as nightsticks, perhaps safer for the police than their having to use of physical force to enforce restraint in various situations including arrests of criminal suspects. “Tasers generate a lot of volts but not a lot of amps,” Deputy Sheriff Dan Deering, a Taser trainer for the Jackson County (Michigan) Sheriff’s Office, said. “It’s not the volts that kill you. It’s the amps.”
Others say the stun gun is dangerous. The City of San Jose, California, paid $70,000 to the widow and child of Edwin Rodriguez after police in 2005 fired Rodriguez with a Taser. Family members had driven Rodriguez to the hospital when he suffered an attack of his chronic schizophrenia. However, when he resisted the treatment at the hospital, police pinned him to the ground and stunned with a Taser, allegedly four times. He died in less than an hour, the fifth person to die in San Jose from being shocked since San Jose Police were issued Tasers in 2004.
Amnesty International reports that 334 people have died in the United States between 2001 and August, 2008, after being stunned by Tasers, including 55 people in California and 52 in Florida.
Police like to point out that the mere display of a Taser often accomplishes compliance. Likely this is true. But critics believe the very confidence police have in Tasers may cause the police to underestimate their potentially lethal power. According the Associated Press, the Taser Company claims their stun guns cannot kill. The Amnesty International report concedes that most of the 334 deaths were attributed to other medical factors such as drug intoxication, but the report included coroners’ conclusions that Taser shocks did in fact cause or contribute to at least 50 of the deaths.
Researchers commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation also concluded that over time, Tasers can begin to malfunction and fire with up to 50 percent more power than their manufactured limits. The study found even stun guns firing at expected electrical levels carry some risk of inducing cardiac arrest.