Stun guns account for 6-fold increase in sudden deaths

January 26th, 2009 - 5:27 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Jan 26 (IANS) Sudden deaths caused by the use of stun guns increased six-fold in the very first year that they were deployed in California. Stun guns like the Taser deliver a high-frequency, high-voltage current to incapacitate victims by causing momentary neuromuscular incapacitation.

They are in use by over 12,000 law enforcement, military and correctional agencies in the US and abroad, according to reporting by Taser International Inc.

While industry-funded human studies have shown that Tasers cause no harm, the latest study suggested they pose greater dangers than previous reports said, said study author Zian H. Tseng, University of California San Francisco (UCSF).

Although the device has been introduced to decrease numbers of shooting deaths and injuries, study results showed an increase rather than decrease in rate of shooting deaths, following their deployment.

“Physicians and law enforcement agencies need real-world knowledge of the effects of Taser use so that risks can be weighed in establishing appropriate policies and techniques,” said Tseng, also assistant clinical professor in cardiology at UCSF.

“There have been a number of animal and controlled human studies, but none that test how Tasers are used in the real world, where subjects may have pre-existing medical conditions or be under the influence of narcotics.”

Under the Public Records Act and the Freedom of Information Act, researchers mailed surveys to 126 police and sheriff departments in California cities and the 10 largest cities in the US.

The survey requested three types of information: the rates of in-custody sudden deaths in the absence of lethal force, firearm-related deaths, and officer injuries requiring emergency room visits.

Data on the rates of sudden death pre- and post-Taser deployment were provided by 50 cities, while 21 cities reported firearm deaths and four cities reported officer injuries.

None of the 10 largest US cities returned surveys. The team used total annual arrest data per city as reported by the Department of Justice.

For each law enforcement agency that responded, researchers gathered data for the five years prior to the deployment of Tasers and for five years after.

This allowed the research team, which included epidemiologists, cardiologists and statisticians, to observe how device deployment impacted the number of emergency events that lawmen experienced, said a UCSF release.

“Sudden deaths are extremely rare events, but it is important to look into why these events happen and whether law enforcement agencies are fully informed of the real-world risks of Taser deployment,” said Byron Lee, co-author and Tseng’s counterpart.

These findings were published online by the American Journal of Cardiology.

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