After widespread criticism from human rights groups, the maker of the Taser electrical stun gun is now advising law enforcement agencies to avoid shooting people in the chest with the weapon.
Taser International, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., recommended the change in a revised training manual
issued Oct. 12. The company stated there’s an “extremely low” risk of ill effects from a shot to the chest, but added it’s better to use caution.
The manual states, “Should sudden cardiac arrest occur in a scenario involving a Taser discharge to the chest area, it would place the law enforcement agency, the officer, and Taser International in the difficult situation of trying to ascertain what role, if any, (the device) could have played.”
Amnesty International states Tasers are responsible for more than 350 deaths in the United States since 2001, but the weapons’ manufacturer has maintained they are safe when used properly.
Both Cincinnati City Council and the British government previously have considered banning the use of Tasers on children due to potential health risks.
Then-City Councilman Christopher Smitherman lobbied for the age restriction in 2005 after it was revealed that police fired Tasers at juvenile suspects 52 times the previous year, and only three were armed with weapons.
After deadlocking on the issue twice, City Council voted 5-4 to reject the restriction in January 2005. Those opposed to the proposal were John Cranley, Sam Malone, Chris Monzel, David Pepper and Jim Tarbell; supporters were Smitherman, Laketa Cole, David Crowley and Alicia Reece.
Also, the Defence Scientific Advisory Council medical committee told the British government's Home Office in early 2008 that not enough was known about the health risks of using the weapons against children. The panel, comprised of independent scientists and doctors, said that limited research suggested there was a risk children could suffer “a serious cardiac event, The Daily Mail
reported. The panel recommended further studies and observation.
Nevertheless, the Home Office relaxed restrictions on using Tasers. Previously, the stun guns could only be used by police specialists against suspects that presented an imminent threat, like brandishing a weapon. Now they may be used against all potentially violent offenders even if they are unarmed.
In the United States, a 14-year-old Chicago boy went into cardiac arrest three years ago after police used a Taser on him. He eventually was resuscitated using a defibrillator.
Tasers are battery-operated devices that shoot a small dart connected to a metal wire into a suspect standing between 15 to 21 feet away. The weapon then sends a 50,000-volt charge along the wire, shocking and temporarily paralyzing the suspect by causing muscle contractions.
Cincinnati Police began equipping all of its officers with Tasers in December 2003, at a cost of $1 million.