Stunning trends in shocking crimes: a comprehensive analysis of taser weapons.

Author:Kedir, Shaun H.
 
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  1. INTRODUCTION II. BACKGROUND A. History B. Taser International C. Taser Mechanics D. Effects of Taser E. Medical Research and Findings III. USE-OF-FORCE GUIDELINES AND DEPLOYMENT POLICIES A. Use-of-Force Continuum B. Training Requirements C. Safety Procedures IV. TASER REGULATIONS AND RESTRICTIONS A. Federal Level B. State and Local Level V. TASERS AND-OF-FORCE LIABILITY A. 42 U.S.C. [section] 1983--Qualified Immunity B. Fourth Amendment Cases C. Eighth Amendment Cases VI. TASER DEBATE: CONTROVERSY AND CONCERNS OVER THE SAFETY OF TASERS A. General Background B. In-Custody Deaths C. Lack of Regulation and Policy D. Inadequate Independent Research E. Taser International's Rebuttal 1. Taser: The Safest, Most Effective Non-Lethal Weapon 2. Research and Independent Reviews: Reaffirm Safety 3. In-Custody Deaths: No Significant Relationship 4. Law Enforcement: Best Position To Determine Policies VII. WHAT ROLE SHOULD TASERS HAVE IN LAW ENFORCEMENT?: SOME RECOMMENDATIONS A. Detailed Use-of-Force Policies B. Improve Training C. Create National Standards D. Additional Independent Research VIII. CONCLUSION I. INTRODUCTION

    In 2001, Westminster, Colorado police officers were dispatched to the home of a suicidal thirteen year-old girl who had barricaded herself in a bathroom. (1) The young girl was mutilating her wrist with two butcher knives. (2) When police officers forced their way into the bathroom, the emotionally disturbed girl charged at them with the two butcher knives while screaming, "Kill me! Kill me!." One of the officers deployed a Taser M26, a hand held conductive energy weapon, which fires two barbed darts up to a distance of thirty-five feet that then deliver an electric shock of 50,000 volts. (3) The officer's Taser shot hit the girl and immediately and safely incapacitated her. (4) All of the police officers at the incident concurred, "without the Taser, we would have had to use lethal force" (5)

    This is just one of several stories of Tasers safely incapacitating dangerous, aggressive, or high-risk individuals. (6) Due to this capability of subduing individuals without harming the officer or suspect, a growing number of law enforcement agencies are purchasing and implementing Tasers. Currently, over 8000 of the 18,000 law enforcement and correctional agencies in the United States are testing or using Tasers. (7) Marketed as one of "the safest and most effective use-of-force options available," police departments deploying Tasers claim that they reduce injury rates to officers and suspects, lower liability risk, and improve community security by providing a non-lethal (8) alternative to the use of impact weapons or firearms. (9)

    The recent widespread use of Tasers, however, has not been without controversy. There remain concerns over health risks, the possibility of abuse, the lack of regulation, and the overall safety of Tasers. Recently, media (10) and human rights (11) organizations, such as Amnesty International, have released reports of more than 100 people since 2001 dying after receiving Taser shocks. Although coroners have attributed the majority of the deaths to other factors, such as drug use, in at least five of the cases, coroners found Tasers to be a contributory factor. (12) In addition to reports of fatalities, there have been reported cases of police officers deploying Tasers on unarmed, non-compliant, or disturbed individuals who do not pose a threat to themselves or others. (13) Some of these individuals include children, elderly, and pregnant women. (14)

    This note, provides a comprehensive medical, legal, and policy analysis of Tasers. As part of this analysis, the benefits and potential risks of Tasers are weighed to determine what role the weapon should have in law enforcement and American society. Issues such as officer and suspect safety, unknown health risks, training requirements, deployment protocols, police liability and accountability, government regulation, public acceptance, and comparisons of other non-lethal force are discussed in this note.

    In short, Taser weapons have the potential of providing law enforcement with a viable life-saving tool that presents no greater health risk than other less-lethal methods currently in use; however, extensive training, detailed deployment policies providing clear direction on how to avoid unnecessary acts of force, further research, and community approval are critical to ensure its safe, effective, and appropriate use.

    Part II of this note discusses the background of Taser technology. It briefly discusses the models of Taser weapons used today, the effect of Tasers on the human body, and the medical research conducted on the device. Part III of this note discusses the use-of-force guidelines established by law enforcement agencies, including general polices on appropriate circumstances for Taser use, training requirements, and safety procedures. Part IV reviews the various federal, state, and local laws regulating Tasers. Part V of this note analyzes the case law associated with Tasers and excessive force liability for law enforcement. Part VI reviews the controversy surrounding Taser, including the debate between human rights organizations and Taser International on the weapon's safety and effectiveness. Lastly, Part VII of this note discusses the role Tasers should play in law enforcement and includes recommendations to ensure the weapon's safe use.

  2. BACKGROUND

    1. History

      John Cover, a scientist for Apollo Moon landing, invented the Taser in 1969. (15) By 1974, the Los Angeles Police Department had become one of the first police agencies to use Tasers. (16) The early models of Taser used gunpowder to launch two "dart-like" wires that latched onto an individual's skin and administered an electrical charge to their body, disrupting superficial muscle functions. (17) These early Taser models, however, were not very successful and were used sparingly by police forces, due to the weapon's ineffectiveness against determined and physically strong aggressors. (18) It was not until the late 1990s that companies started to develop more powerful and effective versions of the weapon. (19)

    2. Taser International

      While there are various forms of non-lethal weapons, such as stun guns, Taser International is the only manufacturer of Taser brand devices. (20) The company developed Tasers primarily for use in law enforcement, corrections, private security, and personal defense markets. (21) Taser International literature promotes Tasers as using proprietary technology to safely overcome or subdue "dangerous, combative, or high risk individuals who pose a risk to law enforcement officers, innocent citizens, or themselves." (22)

      Taser International produces various models of the electronically controlled device, including the M-18 model for civilian market and the M-26 and X26 models for law enforcement agencies and military forces. (23) The M-18 civilian model has less voltage and less range than the other models, while the M-26 and X-26 differ in size, but generally operate in a similar manner and with similar voltage. (24)

    3. Taser Mechanics

      The Taser is a hand-held projectile stun gun that uses compressed nitrogen (25) to discharge two small probes with attached insulated wires, which are connected to the gun portion of the device. (26) Once the probes make contact with the body or clothing of an individual, the Taser delivers an electrical impulse of 50,000 volts through the wires to the probes, resulting in immediate loss of the individual's neuromuscular control and ability to perform coordinated movements for the duration of the shock. (27) The Taser can project the probes up to a distance of 35 feet at a speed of over 160 feet per second. (28) Generally, the electrical impulse is pre-set to last up to five seconds, although, the shock may last longer if the trigger remains depressed and can be reactivated numerous times if the probes remain attached to an individual. (29) In the latest models of Tasers, there is also a data port system attached to the weapon that provides downloadable information, including times, dates, and duration of recent uses. (30) The purpose of the data ports is to provide accountability and protect officers from charges of misuse of force. (31)

    4. Effects of Taser

      In contrast to other stun devices and non-lethal weapons that rely solely on psychological impacts such as pain-compliance or distractions to subdue an individual, the new models of Tasers use Electro-Muscular Disrption (EMD) technology, which causes an uncontrollable contraction of skeletal muscle tissue, overriding the motor nervous system. (32) As a result, complete incapacitation occurs, regardless of an individual's pain tolerance, mental focus, or drug induced dementia. (33) Tasers, however, still inflict substantial pain. Although reports from individuals shocked by Tasers vary in regards to amount of pain felt, one law enforcement officer described the feeling of receiving a Taser shock as similar to "having two screwdrivers attached to jackhammers being driven into my back." (34) A reporter, who volunteered to be shocked, described the feeling as being "like someone reached into my body to rip my muscles apart with a fork." (35) The pain, however, does not linger after the shock is applied. After the cessation of the electrical current, the shocked individual typically recovers in about ten seconds. (36)

    5. Medical Research and Findings

      There are over eighty medical studies and reviews relating to the use of Tasers. (37) The published literature includes information on the use of electronic restraint devices, the medical hazards of electricity, and injuries and deaths associated with electronic weapons. (38) The majority of these publications, however, report on the original Taser model or other stun gun devices, not on the newer Advanced Tasers M-26/X-26. (39) Since the introduction of the "new generation" of Tasers in 1998, there has been...

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