Caution urged in stun gun use

By Dave Collins
Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Police officers using stun guns should avoid shooting suspects multiple times or for prolonged periods to reduce the risk of potential injury or death, according to a new U.S. Justice Department study prompted by hundreds of police-involved deaths across the country.

Coroners and other medical experts on the study panel concluded that while the effects of prolonged and repeated stun gun use on the body are not fully understood, most deaths officially attributed to Tasers and similar devices are from multiple or lengthy discharges of the weapons.

The panel reviewed nearly 300 cases in which people died from 1999 to 2005 after police shot them with stun guns, but found that most of the deaths were caused by underlying health problems and other issues.

Of those cases, the experts examined 22 in which the use of stun guns was listed as an official cause of death.

The study released recently by the department’s research arm, the National Institute of Justice, concludes that it’s appropriate for officers to use stun guns to subdue unruly or uncooperative suspects, as long as police adhere to “accepted national guidelines and appropriate use-of-force policy.” It also makes several recommendations, including medical screenings for all people shot with stun guns. The experts also noted that evidence shows the risk of death from a stun gun related incident is less than 0.25 percent, and there’s no conclusive evidence that stun guns cause permanent health problems.

“What this study suggests is, indeed, less-than-lethal technologies ... can be effectively used by law enforcement,” said John Laub, director of the National Institute of Justice.
Justice Department officials said the study began more than six years ago after Amnesty International and other groups blamed many death of suspects in police custody on stun gun.
Both Amnesty International and the United Nations Committee Against Torture have called the use of stuns guns a form of torture in some cases.

More than 12,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide had issued about 260,000 stun guns to officers as of spring of last year, the study said. Of the more than 600 arrest-related deaths in the U.S. each year, there are very few cases in which stun guns are cited the cause or contributory factor, the report said.

Officials at Taser International, the maker of the leading stun guns, said last week that there are no peer-reviewed medical studies that have found that prolonged or repeated use of Tasers cause death.
 

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