New Studies Open Up More Debate On Police Stun Gun Use
May 2, 2012

New Studies Open Up More Debate On Police Stun Gun Use

New research has been published recently that is heating up the debate on the police use of stun guns on citizens.

One new study has found that the use of stun guns by police significantly increases the chances of citizen injury, while also protecting the officers more than other methods.

Researchers from Michigan State University, University of Central Florida and Illinois State University said the study presents a dilemma for police agencies, weighing the use of the weapon's benefit to those in service.

About 260,000 electronic control devices, or stun guns, are in use in 11,500 law enforcement agencies in the U.S.

“The findings are quite complex, in that citizen injuries increased but officer injuries decreased,” William Terrill, lead researcher on the project, said in a prepared statement. “Police agencies have to balance the findings. They have to consider whether this is a trade-off they can accept.”

He said previous studies have been misleading, by changing the officer's ruling after a stun gun incident on whether the suspect was injured.

During the new study, researchers spent a month studying stun gun incidents in cities including Columbus, Portland, and Knoxville.  All the police departments in these cities used the Taser gun made by Taser International.

They reported the findings in two studies, the first of which was published in the current issue of Justice Quarterly.

In the first study, the researchers found that citizens were injured 41 percent of the time when officers used a stun gun during apprehension.  Citizens were injured only 29 percent of the time when no stun gun was used during the same type of event.

The study looked at 13,913 use-of-force cases in seven cities, taking into account factors like the amount of citizen resistance, influence of alcohol or drugs, and officer experience.

During the second study, which was published in Police Quarterly, the researchers found officers were injured 5 percent of the time when using a stun gun.  They found that 10 percent of those officers who were not using a stun gun were injured.  This second study looked at 12,455 use-of-force cases in six cities.

Terrel said the most important factor in use-of-force cases is the officer's safety, adding that stun guns may not be the universal cure many believe them to be.

“There has been this increased perception that these devices are effective and safe,” Terrill said. “But in terms of safeness, our data conclusively shows they are not safe to citizens. Now, are there concerns to the point that we´re recommending that law enforcement agencies not use them? Absolutely not. We think there needs to be more careful analysis done, and it has to be done in a way that´s fair and objective.”

The researchers will next be looking into how beneficial stun guns are in subduing a suspect.

Another study published on Monday in the journal Circulation says that electrical shocks from stun guns can set off irregular heart rhythms, leading to cardiac arrest.

During this study, researchers looked at detailed records from the cases of eight people in the U.S. who went into cardiac arrest after receiving shots from a Taser X26.  They found that seven of the people in the study died, while one survived.

Advocacy groups like Amnesty International argue that Tasers are potentially lethal and that stricture rules should be applied for using them.

However, Steve Tuttle, a spokesman for Taser, claims stun guns pose less risk to civilians than firearms, and are safer for police officers.

Douglas Zipes, the author of the study published in Circulation, is a cardiologist and professor at Indiana University and has served as a witness for plaintiffs in lawsuits against Taser.  Tuttle says that Zipes findings are tainted because of his bias and career as an expert witness.