The TASER is claimed to the most productive lethal force tool in use today, with a very quick recovery rate and no-long term side effects. The TASER has quickly taken over the popularity of pepper spray, and the lethality of the baton and the firearm. However, the TASER has faced negative views from members of the public. Electro-muscular disruption has become an issue among the public, some describing it as extremely painful and a form of torture.
The true power of the TASER has been witnessed over its short history, causing physical problems, psychological problems and even death. This is becoming more concerning with the TASER being used so frequently as the first resort. With the TASER being carried by nearly all police officers, alternate forms of less lethal may need to be looked at.
This essay will look into the history of the TASER and analyze the pros and cons with the use of the TASER in the police force. This essay will look into a controversial case, where a man died in the Vancouver International Airport from a direct result of multiple TASER shocks by the police. I will also discuss excited delirium and how this mysterious syndrome has created a mass of discussion and disagreements. The word TASER is an acronym for Thomas A. Swift Electric Rifle and can deliver 50,000 volts to a human target (Seals, 2007). The TASER was invented by John H. Cover and patented in 1974 (Seals, 2007).
The TASER uses replaceable cartridges containing compressed nitrogen gas to fire two barbed probes that are attached to 4.5 meter insulated conductive wires (TASER International, n.d.
). The probes can penetrate up to two inches of clothing with pinpoint accuracy (TASER International, n.d.). The charge is sent thru the wires and into the probes. The charge is transmitted between the two probes, jamming sensory and motor functions, and inhibiting muscular control (Seals, 2007). This effect continues in 5-10 second cycles each time you press the trigger (Seals, 2007).
The TASER is designed to stun the victim with a jolt of electricity, temporarily resulting in complete loss of muscular control, allowing a police officer to gain control of the offender. The Arizona based TASER International makes most of the TASERs used by law enforcement agencies today. TASER International claims that since early 1998 to 2010 over 406,000 TASERs have been sold worldwide, for law enforcement use. In 2007 TASER International produced $100.
7 million in revenue, 85 percent coming from the United States.TASER usually cause very minor injuries, consisting of minor burns, abrasions and small punctures. These wounds usually heal within 2 to 3 days and do not require hospitalization (RCMP, 2007).
Other more serious issues include the probes being shot into more sensitive areas that include the face, throat or groin area. Secondary injuries are also a major health concern; this happens when the subject falls to the ground or falls from heights in a violent manner (RCMP, 2007). Another serious injury, which Taser International does not include on their website are strong muscle contractions. These contractions can lead to hernia ruptures, internal injuries to soft tissues, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, with a chance of joints and bone fractures, including fractures to the vertebrae (Seals, 2007).
The most serious side effect is death, although rare, it does occur. From 1999 to 2007 approximately 270 people died worldwide, including 17 Canadians (RCMP, 2007). The TASER was deemed to have been a major cause in these deaths, but the autopsy results could not label the TASER as the cause of death. There is no independent central registry or organization collecting this data so the numbers are based primarily on media reports (RCMP, 2007). The TASER is not the first method to be under scrutiny. In the 1980s neck restraints were blamed for sudden, unexpected death and in the 1990s pepper spray and the hog tie were blamed (RCMP, 2007). The Canadian Police Research Centre conducted a review called the Review of Conducted Energy Devices (RCMP, 2007). This Review concluded that there was no evidence or research that implicates a relationship between the TASER and death (RCMP, 2007).
Over the past 20 years, there have been reports of sudden, unexpected deaths of individuals in police custody, excited delirium syndrome is claimed to be the cause of death in many of these situations. Excited delirium is the subject of intense debate between doctors, law enforcement officers and civil libertarians. The term excited delirium has become increasingly popular within the medical field, it is a used to explain why people die unexpectedly in police custody. Symptoms include extreme agitation, aggressive, violent behaviour and incoherence (Sullivan, 2007). These individuals are usually high on drugs or alcohol, and reported to have super human strength. The RCMP (2007) Report stated that “Excited delirium is an acute condition with multiple potential underlying etiologies that can progress rapidly to cardiopulmonary arrest and death in individuals who are struggling violently and are then subdued either in the pre-hospital or hospital setting”. The police have an impossible time controlling these individuals, and it usually results with the officer pulling out his TASER. Some people believe that the diagnosis is a cover-up for police brutality, while others think it is to protect TASER International from lawsuits (Sullivan, 2007).
TASER International claims, the only way to apprehend the person is to TASER them, so the individual can receive medical treatment they need. Critics like to point out that excited delirium is not listed in the Canadian Medical Association’s list of diagnoses, as evidence that the syndrome does not exist (RCMP, 2007). But the RCMP argues it is not a diagnosis, but a state of being or condition for which many underlying explanatory diagnoses are possible (RCMP, 2007). No scientific data has discovered that the TASER can cause death thru excited delirium.
Whether it is the act of restraint or some other aspect of the situation that causes the death is unknown. However, it is important for the public to understand that excited delirium is a person suffering from severe abnormalities in cognitive thinking and sensory perception (RCMP, 2007). Traditional forms of negotiation are useless in these situations, so alternate forms of restraint have to be employed.On May 17, 2000 the Conducted Energy Weapon Evaluation Project was sent into motion by the RCMP (RCMP, 2007).
The main purpose of the project was to assess the effectiveness and suitability of the M26 Advanced TASER within the RCMP. The project was made up of three major components. The TASER was sent to an independent research laboratory where a technical assessment was preformed, it was tested on volunteers and it was used in a six month field trial (RCMP, 2007). On December 20, 2001 the Conducted Energy Weapon Evaluation Project was a success and operational policy was published authorizing deployment (RCMP, 2007).
By 2008 the RCMP had 2,800 TASERs in the force and 9,100 officers that were trained to use them (CBC News, 2010). A study done by the RCMP showed that the Mounties drew or threatened to draw their TASER more than 1,400 times in 2007, up drastically from 597 in 2005 (CBC News, 2010). This figure has gone down significantly since 2007, due to never-ending public scrutiny and the case of Robert Dziekanski. The story of Robert Dziekanski has been the most publicized case in Canada, with massive public outcry.
Robert Dziekanski was a Polish immigrant that had just landed in Canada on October 14, 2007 (CBC News, 2007). Dziekanski waited 9 hours for his immigration status to clear and had trouble finding his mother, who was picking him up. Dziekanski became understandably agitated and started throwing furniture and screaming. After several security guards and bystanders tried calming him down the RCMP arrived. The RCMP ordered Dziekanski against the wall, Dziekanski became more agitated resulting in him picking up a stapler, and taking on what the RCMP called a combative stance (CBC News, 2007). An officer then deployed his TASER, shocking Dziekanski in the back. A total of 5 cycles, 5-10 seconds, were issued during the arrest, not all coming from the same device (CBC News, 2007). One of the devices malfunctioned causing 50,000 volts to enter Dziekanski’s body without leaving.
The malfunction happened when one of the TASER probes missed Dziekanski, some people blame this as the cause of death but the autopsy results were inconclusive (CBC News, 2007). After the officers handcuffed Dziekanski, he stopped breathing. One of the officers checked for a pulse but did not perform CPR. When the paramedics arrived on scene, Dziekanski was pronounced dead. The RCMP officers have been widely criticized for their premature use of the TASER. Paul Kennedy, chairman of the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP, issued a report Tuesday, December 8, 2009 (CTV News, 2009).
This report stated that, the senior officer failed to take charge of the situation, and the officers failed to determine if it was necessary to use the TASER on Dziekanski. The report also stated that the officers inappropriately discussed the event leading up to Dziekanski death before giving their official statements and more should have been done by the officers to preserve Dziekanski’s life (CTV News, 2009). The death of Robert Dziekanski has awoken a massive debate with the use of the TASER, with no resolution is in sight. The TASER can be a lifesaving form of less-lethal in certain situations, but with lack of regulations and the police misusing their powers, controversy has arisen.
As seen in the case of Robert Dziekanski, the officers need to understand their weapons power and not to resort to it in every conflict. Health issues and deaths have resulted in a chain of research experiments and papers, with very little determined. Further research may need to be done to discover the true power of the TASER when dealing with people, especially those under the effects of illicit drugs or having previous medical conditions. Although excited delirium is a controversial syndrome there are supporting facts that need to be researched. If the mix of excited delirium and the TASER is a fatal one, certain measurement may need to be taken to preserve life in violent situations. The use of the TASER is not going to be subsiding anytime soon.
The TASER is still seen as the safest, most effective form of less-lethal in use today. You will likely hear, and see more horrible stories when a death occurs due to a TASER, but without any undeniable research, the TASER is likely to be the on the side of every officer. Sudden, unanticipated deaths will likely never be completely eradicated, if the TASER was to get banned, some other debatable form of less-lethal would take its place.