A Taser is a brand of electroshock weapon sold by Axon. The shooting stun guns fire two small dart-like electrodes, which stay connected to the main unit by conductors, to deliver electric current to disrupt voluntary control of muscles, causing "neuromuscular incapacitation". Someone struck by a Taser may experience pain and over-stimulation of sensory nerves and motor nerves, resulting in strong involuntary long muscle contractions. The force applied is therefore proportional to the strength of the person receiving the shock rather than the strength of the police officer. Taser darts can incapacitate, not just cause pain compliance, and are thus preferred by some law enforcement over non-Taser stun guns and other electronic control weapons, which, like a Taser when used solely in "Drive Stun" mode, can only do the latter.
Tasers were introduced as non-lethal weapons for police to use to subdue fleeing, belligerent, or potentially dangerous people, who would have otherwise been subjected to more lethal weapons such as firearms. A 2009 Police Executive Research Forum study said that officer injuries drop by 76% when a Taser is used. Taser International has stated that police surveys show that the device has saved 75,000 lives through 2011, there have been instances where Tasers have contributed to serious injury or death. Other companies have produced similar devices (e.g., Raysun X1).
Jack Cover, a NASA researcher, began developing the Taser in 1969. By 1974, Cover had completed the device, which he named after his childhood hero Tom Swift (book "Thomas [A] Swift's electric rifle", by "Victor Appleton", a house pseudonym of the Stratemeyer Syndicate). The Taser Public Defender used gunpowder as its propellant, which led the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to classify it as a firearm in 1976. The backformed verb "to tase" is used sometimes.
Taser International CEO Patrick Smith has testified in a Taser-related lawsuit that the catalyst for the development of the device was the "shooting death of two of his high school acquaintances" by a "guy with a legally licensed gun who lost his temper". In 1993, Rick Smith and his brother Thomas began to investigate what they called "safer use of force option[s] for citizens and law enforcement". At their Scottsdale, Arizona, facilities, the brothers worked with the "...original Taser inventor, Jack Cover" to develop a "non-firearm Taser electronic control device". The 1994 Air Taser Model 34000 had an "anti-felon identification (AFID) system" to prevent the likelihood that the device would be used by criminals; upon use, it released many small pieces of paper containing the serial number of the Taser device. The U.S. firearms regulator, the ATF, stated that the Air Taser was not a firearm.
In 1999, Taser International developed an "...ergonomically handgun-shaped device called the Advanced Taser M-series systems", which used a "...patented neuromuscular incapacitation (NMI) technology". In May 2003, Taser International released a new weapon called the Taser X26, which used "shaped pulse technology". On July 27, 2009 Taser International released a new type of Taser called the X3, which can fire three shots before reloading. It holds three new type cartridges, which are much thinner than the previous model.
The Taser fires two small dart-like electrodes, which stay connected to the main unit by conductive wire as they are propelled by small compressed nitrogen charges. The cartridge contains a pair of electrodes and propellant for a single shot (or three shots in the X3 model) and is replaced after each use. There are a number of cartridges designated by range, with the maximum at 35 feet (10.6 m). Cartridges available to non-law enforcement consumers are limited to 15 feet (4.5 m). The electrodes are pointed to penetrate clothing and barbed to prevent removal once in place. Earlier Taser models had difficulty in penetrating thick clothing, but newer versions (X26, C2) use a "shaped pulse" that increases effectiveness in the presence of barriers.
Tasers also provide a safety benefit to police officers. Tasers have a greater deployment range than batons, pepper spray or empty hand techniques. This allows police to maintain a greater distance. A study of use-of-force incidents by the Calgary Police Service conducted by the Canadian Police Research Centre found that the use of Tasers resulted in fewer injuries than the use of batons or empty hand techniques. The study found that only pepper spray was a safer intervention option.
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Use of the taser has been associated with deaths. The Guardian newspaper is running a database, called "The Counted", tracking US killings by police and other law enforcement agencies in 2015. As of 6 November 2015[update], 47 deaths of the 965 killed were classified as taser events.
Drive Stun Edit
Some Taser models, particularly those used by police departments, also have a "Drive Stun" capability, where the Taser is held against the target without firing the projectiles, and is intended to cause pain without incapacitating the target. "Drive Stun" is "the process of using the EMD (Electro Muscular Disruption) weapon [Taser] as a pain compliance technique. This is done by activating the Taser and placing it against an individual's body. This can be done without an air cartridge in place or after an air cartridge has been deployed."
Guidelines released in 2011 in the U.S. recommend that use of Drive Stun as a pain compliance technique be avoided. The guidelines were issued by a joint committee of the Police Executive Research Forum and the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. The guidelines state "Using the ECW to achieve pain compliance may have limited effectiveness and, when used repeatedly, may even exacerbate the situation by inducing rage in the subject".
A study of U.S. police and sheriff departments found that 29.6% of the jurisdictions allowed the use of Drive Stun for gaining compliance in a passive resistance arrest scenario, with no physical contact between the officer and the subject. For a scenario that also includes non-violent physical contact, this number is 65.2%.
A Las Vegas police document says "The Drive Stun causes significant localized pain in the area touched by the Taser, but does not have a significant effect on the central nervous system. The Drive Stun does not incapacitate a subject but may assist in taking a subject into custody." The UCLA Taser incident and the University of Florida Taser incident involved university police officers using their Taser's "Drive Stun" capability (referred to as a "contact tase" in the University of Florida Offense Report).
Amnesty International has expressed particular concern about Drive Stun, noting that "the potential to use Tasers in drive-stun mode—where they are used as 'pain compliance' tools when individuals are already effectively in custody—and the capacity to inflict multiple and prolonged shocks, renders the weapons inherently open to abuse".
There are two primary models that Taser International is promoting to law enforcement agencies and civilians alike, the TASER X26 and the TASER X2 Defender. Other models still in circulation include the Taser M26 (still used by a number of law enforcement agencies), the Taser C2 (updated Taser Bolt) and the Taser X3 which was first introduced in 2009. In recent years there have been numerous advances in both the technology that powers Tasers as well as the size, look and feel of each particular model. Three of the more notable advancements were introduced in the TASER X2 Defender which debuted in 2011. The three improvements are the "back up shot" feature, dual lasers, and the warning arc. With the option for an additional shot, the X2 provides a benefit that other models simply can't, the chance for a second shot without having to reload.
The dual lasers have also impacted the latest advancements in Tasers, greatly increasing the accuracy of hitting the intended target. The user can see exactly where the probes will deploy as the lasers pinpoint where each probe will contact the intended target. The warning arc has had perhaps the biggest impact of all the advancements; it has the capability to deescalate the situation without the user having to fire a single shot. According to Kevin Sailor of the Westminster Police Department, "All of our initial field uses of the X2 resulted in voluntary surrenders upon display of the warning arc." Each of the innovations mentioned in this article and others unmentioned have led two models – the Taser X26P and the Taser X2 – to be called "smart weapons". Advancements in processing speeds, chip and circuitry technologies, and more powerful software have propelled forward powerful "smart devices".
A 2009 development has included marketing Tasers tailored specifically for women. The Taser website states "Who says safety can't be stylish?" in reference to its "latest designer TASER C2 colors" and patterns, which include leopard print patterns and a range of colors.
There are several accessories available with which to outfit newer Taser models. From small accessories used in conjunction with a Taser such as practice targets, maintenance kits, a data port download kit, and the Blackhawk® holster, there are also accessories that are interchangeable with the stock setup of a Taser (factory setup as you would receive it from an authorized Taser dealer). These accessories allow for a customizable weapon to meet the specialized needs of a particular agency or an individual user. Examples are the many power magazines available (battery types) and the Taser CAM HD.
The Taser CAM HD is a specialized device designed to capture audio and video without the need to manually turn on the recording device, an action that is unpractical in the field. "Automatically capturing video and audio unburdens the user from the need to manually turn on the device during a dangerous situation. This is critical and guarantees there will always be a record of the TASER firing." Designed to be interchangeable between the Taser X26 or Taser X2, the camera records both video and audio automatically each time the Taser is armed (when the safety is moved into the up or active position). There is no interference to the normal function of the Taser; it is still fully functional while the camera is in operation. This innovation coupled with the data port download kit allows for the automatic archiving of critical events for law enforcement agencies.
According to a 2010 study titled "Police Use of Force, Tasers and Other Less-Lethal Weapons", over 15,000 law enforcement and military agencies around the world use Tasers as part of their use of force continuum. The study was conducted by the United States Department of Justice. Just as the number of agencies deploying Tasers has continued to increase each year, so too the number of Taser related "incidents" between law enforcement officers and suspects has been on the rise.
Although there has been a history of controversy regarding the ethical use of Tasers, studies similar to the one conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice have shown Taser use actually provides many positive benefits to police officers and even to the suspects they encounter. A study of the Houston Police Department found the number of workers comp claims by officers has declined by as much as 93% due to deploying Tasers as a means of non lethal force. Suspect injuries have also been impacted by Taser use, trimming the percentage of suspect injuries by as much as 60%. Another study conducted in 2009 by Wake Forest University confirmed data from the Houston study. The Wake Forest study found 99.75% of suspects who had been subjected to Taser use had no significant injuries.
Use of Tasers by the Seattle Police Department – one of the largest police forces in the northwest – has been shown to reduce the odds of suspect injury by 48%. Data gathered from other agencies confirms a decline in suspect injuries due to Taser deployment. In Orlando, Florida and Austin, Texas, studies found that suspect injuries were 50% and 30% lower respectively after Taser use was adopted. Officer injuries have been impacted by Taser use as well. The same studies found that in most agencies officer injuries were greatly reduced after Taser's were introduced as part of each particular organizations use of force continuum.
Although more recent studies have uncovered vast amounts of data that supports the positive benefits of Taser usage in law enforcement, there is also data that suggests Taser usage has negatively impacted some individual police officers as well. The study conducted in 2010 by the United States Department of Justice found that some officers may rely too heavily upon activating (deploying) a Taser during suspect encounters. The study refers to this negative trait in some police officers as "lazy cop" syndrome. Further research is being conducted to determine what triggers some officers to rely too heavily upon Taser use or deploy a Taser too early in an encounter.
As the technology continues to evolve, Tasers are becoming more advanced "smart weapons." The officers and agencies who deploy them have opportunities to receive specialized training to hone their skills at deploying these emerging technologies. Taser International offers law enforcement agencies around the world the opportunity to receive hands on training in their training academy, led by some of the world's leading Taser experts. The Taser® Training Academy offers courses including training in Taser tactics, weapon maintenance, data reporting, and "smart use" training.
In another related field advancement, Noel Sharkey reported in the Wall Street Journal (December 2015) that police in North Dakota have been cleared to operate drone aircraft equipped with tear gas and Tasers.
Some of the deaths associated with Tasers are given a diagnosis of excited delirium, a term for a phenomenon that manifests as a combination of delirium, psychomotor agitation, anxiety, hallucinations, speech disturbances, disorientation, violent and bizarre behavior, insensitivity to pain, elevated body temperature, and increased strength. Excited delirium is associated with sudden death (usually via cardiac or respiratory arrest) particularly following the use of physical control measures, including police restraint and Tasers. Excited delirium most commonly arises in male subjects with a history of serious mental illness and/or acute or chronic drug abuse, particularly stimulant drugs such as cocaine. Alcohol withdrawal or head trauma may also contribute to the condition.
The diagnosis of excited delirium has been controversial. Excited delirium has been listed as a cause of death by some medical examiners for several years, mainly as a diagnosis of exclusion established on autopsy. Additionally, academic discussion of excited delirium has been largely confined to forensic science literature, providing limited documentation about patients that survive the condition. These circumstances have led some civil liberties groups to question the cause of death diagnosis, claiming that excited delirium has been used to "excuse and exonerate" law enforcement authorities following the death of detained subjects, a possible "conspiracy or cover-up for brutality" when restraining agitated individuals. Also contributing to the controversy is the role of Taser use in excited delirium deaths.
Excited delirium is not found in the current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, however the term "excited delirium" has been accepted by the National Association of Medical Examiners and the American College of Emergency Physicians, who argued in a 2009 white paper that "excited delirium" may be described by several codes within the ICD-9. The American College of Emergency Physicians "rejects the theory" that excited delirium is an "invented syndrome" used to excuse or cover-up the use of excessive force by law enforcement.
Use in schools and on childrenEdit
In 2004, the parents of a 6-year-old boy in Miami sued the police department for firing a Taser at their child. The police said the boy was threatening to injure his own leg with a shard of glass, and said that using the device was the safest option to prevent the boy from injuring himself. Nevertheless, the boy's mother told CNN that the three officers involved probably found it easier not to reason with her child. Also in 2004, a 12-year-old girl skipping school and drinking alcohol was Tasered in Miami-Dade while she was running from police and started to run into traffic. The Taser was successfully deployed to stop her from being hit by cars or causing an automobile accident. In March 2008, an 11-year-old girl was subdued with a Taser. In March 2009, a 15-year-old boy died from alcohol-induced excited delirium in Michigan after being Tasered.
Police use Tasers on smaller subjects and elderly subjects since striking them or falling on them will cause much more injury than a Taser which only contracts their muscles that are conditioned for their size and it is extremely rare for a person to break their own bones by contracting muscles. Critics counter that Tasers may interact with pre-existing medical complications such as medications, and may even contribute to someone's death as a result. Critics also suggest that using a Taser on a minor, particularly a young child, is effectively cruel and abusive punishment, or unnecessary.
On February 15, 2016, the Russian TV network RT reported that the United Nations will tell police in the United Kingdom to ban police Taser use on minors after figures revealed a 38 percent increase in the use of stun guns on under-18s over the last year that violates the Convention on the Rights of the Child which the UK signed up to in 1990.
Use in tortureEdit
A report from a meeting of the United Nations Committee Against Torture states that "The Committee was worried that the use of Taser X26 weapons, provoking extreme pain, constituted a form of torture, and that in certain cases it could also cause death, as shown by several reliable studies and by certain cases that had happened after practical use." Amnesty International has also raised extensive concerns about the use of other electro-shock devices by American police and in American prisons, as they can be (and according to Amnesty International, sometimes are) used to inflict cruel pain on individuals. For example, Eric Hammock of Texas died in April 2005 after receiving more than 20 Taser shocks by Fort Worth police officers. Maurice Cunningham of South Carolina, while an inmate at the Lancaster County Detention Center, was subjected to continuous shock for 2 minutes 49 seconds, which a medical examiner said caused cardiac arrhythmia and his subsequent death. He was 29 years old and had no alcohol or drugs in his system.
In response to the claims that the pain inflicted by the use of the Taser could potentially constitute torture, Tom Smith, the Chairman of the Taser Board, has stated that the U.N. is "out of touch" with the needs of modern policing and asserted that "Pepper spray goes on for hours and hours, hitting someone with a baton breaks limbs, shooting someone with a firearm causes permanent damage, even punching and kicking—the intent of those tools is to inflict pain, ... with the Taser, the intent is not to inflict pain; it's to end the confrontation. When it's over, it's over.
Protection from TasersEdit
There are reports that a layer of carbon fiber incorporated in clothing protects against electric shock from tasers. Arizona inventor Greg Schultz patented a taser-proof fabric. The fabric provides a thin layer of conductive foil that causes the taser to short-circuit. The current would pass through the foil instead of affecting the target's body.
- Braidwood Inquiry — official Canadian enquiry into Tasers and similar devices
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You may not have heard of it, but police departments and medical examiners are using a new term to explain why some people suddenly die in police custody. It's a controversial diagnosis called excited delirium. But the question for many civil liberties groups is, does it really exist?
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Police and defense attorneys are squaring off over a medical condition so rare and controversial it can't be found in any medical dictionary—excited delirium. Victims share a host of symptoms and similarities. They tend to be overweight males, high on drugs, and display extremely erratic and violent behavior. But victims also share something else in common. The disorder seems to manifest itself when people are under stress, particularly when in police custody, and is often diagnosed only after the victims die.
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Excited delirium is defined as a condition in which the heart races wildly—often because of drug use or mental illness—and finally gives out. Medical examiners nationwide are increasingly citing the condition when suspects die in police custody. But some doctors say the rare syndrome is being overdiagnosed, and some civil rights groups question whether it exists at all.
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Medical examiner Dr. Matthew Bowes concluded that Hyde died of excited delirium due to paranoid schizophrenia. He said Hyde's coronary artery disease, obesity and the restraint used by police during a struggle were all factors in his death. ... In a government news release, excited delirium is described as a disorder characterized by extreme agitation, violent and bizarre behaviour, insensitivity to pain, elevated body temperature, and superhuman strength. It says not all of these characterizations are always present in someone with the disorder.[dead link]
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The medical diagnosis called excited delirium is the subject of intense debate among doctors, law-enforcement officers and civil libertarians. They don't even all agree on whether the condition exists. But to Senior Cpl. Herb Cotner of the Dallas Police Department, there's no question that it's real.
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The report has some political implications, too, because it rejects the theory that ExDS is an invented syndrome being used to cover up or excuse the use of force or even brutality by law enforcement officers when someone dies in their custody. It rejects the idea that specific forms of restraint in and of themselves are what cause deaths in ExDS patients. Instead, ExDS is a potentially fatal disease in which all forms of physiologic stress, from physical and noxious chemical to electrical conductive weapons (commonly called TASERs), can tip the balance of a condition on the edge of being fatal. It recognizes that some form of the use of force is often necessary to control agitation in the face of delirium, but that it should be the minimal amount necessary to achieve patient control and ensure public safety, and be followed immediately by medical intervention.
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