The Encyclopedia is a project of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights launched on 2 December 2013. The Enyclopedia aims to provide accurate, up-to-date information on weapons, the effects of their use, and their regulation under public international law, in a format that is accessible to non-specialists.+ Find out more
In addition to delivering an electric-shock via projectiles, several of these weapon types are also capable of delivering an electric-shock when pressed directly against an individual, a technique commonly referred to as ‘drive-stun’.
There is no formal legal definition of projectile electric-shock weapons under international law, and different bodies use different terms to refer to these weapons. The United Nations (UN) Committee Against Torture has referred to them as in one instance as the‘electric “TaserX26” weapon’;Committee Against Torture, ‘Conclusions and Recommendations: Portugal’, 2008, http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/cat/observations/portugal2008.pdf. the European Union as ‘electric shock dart guns’;Council Regulation (EC) No. 1236/2005 of 27 June 2005 concerning trade in certain goods which could be used for capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2005:200:0001:0019:EN:PDF. and the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture as ‘weapons capable of delivering dart-like projectiles which administer an electric shock’.European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (2011) CPT Standards, http://www.cpt.coe.int/en/documents/eng-standards.pdf. Other commonly used terms include: conducted energy weapon (CEW), electrical-discharge weapon (EDW), electronic control device (ECD), and the brand name ‘Taser’ (often used as a catch-all term).
This Encyclopedia uses the term ‘projectile electric-shock weapons’ (emphasis added). This is for four reasons. First, the term clearly differentiates between those weapons capable of providing an electric shock at a distance (through a range of methods, including ‘dart-like projectiles’), and those (such as stun shields) which need to be held directly against an individual to produce an electric-shock. Second, by not explicitly referring to the method of delivery used, the term allows for the possibility that multiple means of delivery may exist. For example, some projectile electric-shock weapons deliver the shock by means of a wireless projectile and make no use of wired ‘dart-like projectiles’ at all. Third, the term does not refer to any particular brand — or trade name — for this weapon. Although Taser products are the most well-known, alternatives are available on the market. Fourth, the term used makes no inherent judgement as to such weapon’s lethality. Although often marketed as ‘less-lethal’ weapons, numerous deaths have occurred subsequent to Taser use.
Currently, there is no treaty or customary international rule that applies specifically to use of projectile electric-shock weapons, whether for military or law enforcement purposes. International humanitarian law (IHL) rules on the conduct of hostilities (especially, distinction, proportionality, and precautions in attacks) and human rights law (especially the rights to life and to freedom from torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment) are all potentially relevant to the use of such weapons. In addition, however, the 1990 Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials set out several principles underpinning the use of force by police and other law enforcement agencies, including ‘non-lethal incapacitating weapons’. In addition, a number of international, regional, and national human rights procedures and courts have addressed the use of projectile electric-shock weapons. Although some projectile electric-shock weapons are marketed as suitable for military use, their use is far more widespread in law enforcement.
The UN Committee Against Torture, in considering one of Portugal’s state party reports, noted its concern that
the use of these weapons causes severe pain constituting a form of torture, and that in some cases it may even cause death, as recent developments have shown (arts. 1 and 16). The State party should consider relinquishing the use of electric “TaserX26” weapons, the impact of which on the physical and mental state of targeted persons would appear to violate articles 1 and 16 of the Convention.Committee Against Torture, ‘Conclusions and Recommendations: Portugal’, 2008.
Two years earlier, in 2006, with respect to the United States of America (USA), the same committee made slightly different recommendations, namely that;
the State party should carefully review the use of electro-shock devices, strictly regulate their use, restricting it to substitution for lethal weapons and eliminate the use of these devices to restrain persons in custody, as this leads to breaches of article 16 of the Convention.Committee Against Torture, ‘Conclusions and Recommendations: USA’, 2006, http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/133838.pdf.
The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture has similarly recommended that:
the use of EDW [electrical-discharge weapon] should be limited to situations where there is a real and immediate threat to life or risk of serious injury. Recourse to such weapons for the sole purpose of securing compliance with an order is inadmissible.CPT Standards.
The European Commission classifies them as ‘goods that could be used for the purpose of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’,Council Regulation (EC) No. 1236/2005 of 27 June 2005 concerning trade in certain goods which could be used for capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2005:200:0001:0019:EN:PDF. but, as it is intended predominantly as a trade control mechanism, the Regulation does not specify which methods or circumstances of use may result in such use.
Such statements are complemented by national jurisprudence and statements from other key bodies, most of which come from the USA. Taser International has affirmed that ‘Existing case law has routinely held that the TASER ECD is an appropriate use of force and does not per se constitute excessive use of force’.As cited in M. J. Spriggs, ‘“Don’t Tase Me Bro!” An Argument for Clear and Effective Taser Regulation’, Ohio State Law Journal, Vol. 70 (2009), p. 498. For example, in Draper v. Reynolds, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit (covering the states of Alabama, Florida, and Georgia) found that the use of Taser against a suspect who was uncooperative and belligerent, and whom the officer feared would attack him, was ‘reasonably proportionate’.Draper v. Reynolds, 369 F.3d 1270, 1276-1278 (11th Cir.2004), also cited in M. J. Spriggs, ‘“Don’t Tase Me Bro!” An Argument for Clear and Effective Taser Regulation’, Ohio State Law Journal, Vol. 70 (2009), p. 498.
National courts have also held that particular uses in certain circumstances give cause for concern, and may amount to excessive force. Concerns emerging from such jurisprudence include: potential lethality and the weapon’s placement on the ‘use of force continuum’; multiple use against the same individual; use in drive-stun mode or in ways that are unnecessarily painful or injurious; use against an individual already restrained; and use against vulnerable individuals.
The Policing Board in Northern Ireland concluded that use of a Taser would only be lawful ‘where it is immediately necessary to prevent or reduce the likelihood of recourse to lethal force (e.g. conventional firearms).’Northern Ireland Policing Board, The PSNI’s Proposed Introduction of Taser: Human Rights Advice, 2007, http://www.nipolicingboard.org.uk/intro_of_taser.pdf. In Australia, the inquest following the death of Antonio Carmelo Galeano in 2009 recommended that Taser policy be amended to read: ‘there must be an imminent risk of serious injury to a person before an officer can deploy a Taser’.Office of the State Coroner, ‘Findings of the inquest into the death of Antonio Carmelo Galeano’, 2012, http://www.courts.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/168357/cif-galeano-ac-20121114.pdf, p. 99.
In the US, in Bryan v. McPherson, the US Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit held that ‘the X26 and similar devices constitute an intermediate, significant level of force.’US Court of Appeals (Ninth Circuit), Brian v. McPherson, Judgment (Case No. 08-55622), argued and submitted 9th October 2009, http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2009/12/28/08-55622.pdf, Part 6, p. 16743. and found that ‘the physiological effects, the high levels of pain, and foreseeable risk of physical injury lead us to conclude that the X26 and similar devices are a greater intrusion than other non-lethal methods of force we have confronted.’Ibid., Part 4, p. 16741. The Court held that the ‘objective facts must indicate that the suspect poses an immediate threat to the officer or a member of the public.’Ibid., Part 8, p. 16744.
In Beaver v. City of Federal Way, a US District Court in Washington state looked at each individual use of the Taser during a given incident and concluded that while the first three uses were ‘objectively reasonable’, the fourth and fifth applications were not. The court found that ‘each application of a Taser involves an additional use of force’.US District Court for the Western District of Washington, Beaver v. City of Federal Way, Judgment (Case No. C05-1938-JPD), 31 August 2007, http://www.aele.org/beaver-federalway.html, p. 507. In Australia, the inquest into the death of Roberto Laudisio Curti — which followed multiple uses of Tasers in both projectile and drive-stun mode by multiple officers — similarly found that each use of the Taser must be individually justified.New South Wales Coroner, Report on the inquest into the death of Roberto Laudisio Curti, 14 November 2012, http://www.coroners.lawlink.nsw.gov.au/agdbasev7wr/_assets/coroners/m401601l4/curti%20decision%2014%20nov%202012.pdf, p. 24.
Court rulings have also underscored it is not just the use of projectile electric-shock devices themselves, but also the way in which they are used, that gives cause for concern. In Hereford v. State of Texas, the Court of Appeal in Texas found that the use of Taser in drive-stun mode against a handcuffed individual was ‘excessive’, in part because the officer ‘deliberately chose to administer numerous electrical shocks to an area of the applicant’s body chosen … because of its exceptional sensitivity.’Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas, Hereford v. State of Texas, Judgment (Case No. PD-0144-10), 6 April 2011, www.cca.courts.state.tx.us/OPINIONS/PDFOPINIONINFO2.ASP?OPINIONID=20860, p. 23.
Similarly, in Orem v. Rephann the US Court of Appeal for the Middle District of North Carolina found it ‘relevant’ that the weapon was discharged against the individual’s ‘left breast and inner thigh’ as it could be inferred that these areas were chosen ‘for the very purpose of harming and embarrassing [Ms] Orem.’US Court of Appeals (Fourth Circuit), Orem v. Rephann, Judgment (Case No. 07-1696), decided on 28 April 2008, http://www.ca4.uscourts.gov/Opinions/Published/071696.P.pdf. An Australian Coroner’s report cited above specifically recommended that the Police Commissioner ‘consider prohibiting the use of Tasers in drive-stun mode, other than where officers are defending themselves from attack.’New South Wales Coroner, Report on the inquest into the death of Roberto Laudisio Curti, 14 November 2012, http://www.coroners.lawlink.nsw.gov.au/agdbasev7wr/_assets/coroners/m401601l4/curti%20decision%2014%20nov%202012.pdf, p. 31.
In a case cited by Mance (Hereford v. State),Hereford v. State 302 S.W.3d 903, 910–11 (Tex. App.) (citation omitted), aff’d, 339 S.W.3d 111 (Tex. Crim. App. 2011) in Mance, I ‘Power Down: Tasers, The Fourth Amendment, and Police Accountability in the Fourth Circuit’, North Carolina Law Review, Vol. 91 (2013), p. 615. a Texas state judge noted that:
It is easy to say that [Tasers have] proved effective. So too would a cane and club be effective if used enough times. The problem, however, is that our United States Supreme Court [has] condemned beatings and whippings as a means of obtaining evidence. Given that those measures and the application of a taser are founded upon the concept of compliance through pain and the rather accurate premise that the more inflicted the greater the chance of compliance, it would be reasonable to view the two ... as alike.... both can be quite brutal depending upon the manner of and circumstances surrounding their application.
In the UK, the High Court in the case of Morrison v. the Independent Police Complaints Commission found that the ‘significant pain and injuries’ inflicted by Taser use would, ‘if not justified in the circumstances, ... amount to the infliction of inhuman or degrading treatment.’High Court of Justice, Morrison v. the IPCC, Judgment, 26 October 2009, Case No: CO/11626/2008, http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2009/2589.html, §71.
In Rose v. City of Lafayette,Colombia District Court, Rose v. City of Lafayette, 2007 WL 485228, 12 February 2007. a district court found that the use of a Taser on a handcuffed individual who ‘appeared to be grabbing.... (the officer’s) weapon’ was reasonable. Similarly, the district court in Yarnall v. Mendez (509 F.Supp.2d 421 (D. Del. 2007) found that ‘the use of a TASER device on a handcuffed arrestee who is running from the police … is objectively reasonable.’Both cases quoted in Liability, Assessment and Awareness International, Taser Electronic Control Device Legal Issues Outline: Restraint Cases, 2008, available at www.ecdlaw.info/outlines/LRS-D%20Restraint%2006-25-08.pdf.
However, other cases have confirmed that the use of force on restrained individuals outside these parameters is likely to be considered excessive. In Hereford v. State of Texas, a case cited above, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held that the repeated use of Taser in drive-stun mode against a handcuffed individual who was holding a bag of cocaine in his mouth represented an ‘excessive use of force’ as the ‘appellant was not a danger to the officers, the medical staff, or anyone else’. Similarly in Orem v. Rephann, the Court of Appeals for the Middle District of North Carolina found that two applications of Taser in drive-stun mode against a woman restrained in handcuffs and a foot restraint device was potentially an ‘unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.’Orem v. Rephann, op. cit., p. 8.
Concerns about an individual’s vulnerabilities are also taken into account in court cases. For example, in Bryan v. MacPherson the court found that the officer ‘should have made greater effort to take control of the situation through less intrusive means’ if he believed the suspect was mentally ill, and a dissenting opinion in Brooks v. City of Seattle highlighted concerns about use on pregnant women:
The Officers could not have known how this woman who was seven months pregnant would respond, physically or psychologically, to the repeated application of thousands of volts of electricity to any part of her body…. Brooks’s physical condition militates in favor of finding excessive force.Brooks v. City of Seattle, 599 F.3d 1018, 1021 (9th Cir. 2010), http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2010/03/26/08-35526.pdf, p. 4960.
In contrast, several cases in the US have held Taser use against juveniles violently resisting the police to be appropriate.AELE Civil Liability for Use of Tasers, stunguns, and other electronic control devices. Part II: Use Against Juveniles, and Inadequate Training Claims, Monthly Law Journal, April 2007, available online at http://www.aele.org/law/2007LRAPR/2007-04MLJ101.pdf.
Although cases often result in summary judgment (qualified immunity) for the officers involved,A. Sussman, ‘Shocking the Conscience: What Police Tasers and Weapon Technology Reveal About Excessive Force’, UCLA Law Review, Issue 59 (2012), p. 1357. some have resulted in victims being awarded compensation. Two successive court cases in the US, prompted by the deaths of two individuals proximate to Taser use, found against Taser International for incomplete product warnings around the enhanced risk of cardiac arrest associated with dart placement to the chest and extended use, respectively. In Turner v. Taser International, the officer testified that he believed that ‘the taser could not cause a cardiac arrest’. In Heston v. Taser International, the jury found ‘the failure by Taser International to warn... of the risks of prolonged deployment was a substantial factor in causing the officers to use in device in such a way’.Turner et al. [Tammy Lou Fontenot] v. TASER International, Inc., Case no. 3:10CV125-RJC-DCK, 27 March 2012, p. 13; and Heston et al. v. Taser International and City of Salinas et al., Ninth Circuit, Case No. 09-15440 DC No. 5:05-cv-03658-JW, filed 5 May 2011. In the former case, the finding resulted in a jury award of $10 million against the Company (subsequently reduced on appeal). In the latter case, the US Ninth Circuit Court upheld a district court decision to overturn punitive damages and upheld the award of compensatory damages, reducing the award from over $5 million to $153,150.Taser International, Punitive Damages against Taser International Thrown out in Heston vs City of Salinas, 2008 available online at http://globenewswire.com/news-release/2008/10/27/387020/153008/en/Punitive-Damages-Against-TASER-International-Thrown-Out-in-Heston-v-City-of-Salinas-et-al.html. Taser International also revised its bulletins to stress the risk of dart placement near the heart and prolonged deployment.L. Williams, ‘The Implication of Taser Failure to Warn Liability for Police Misconduct Lawsuits’, Police Misconduct and Civil Rights Law Report, Vol. 10, No. 6 (November/December 2011), p. 9.
In other cases, victims or their families have received financial compensation from the law enforcement agencies involved. In Parker v. Gerrish, the jury awarded $111,000 to Parker, who complained that the use of the Taser and subsequent handcuffing caused nerve damage to his arm.US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, Parker v. Gerrish and City of South Portland; South Portland Police Department; Edward Googins, Jeffrey Caldwell; and Todd Bernard, Defendants, Case No. 08-1045. Decided on 5 November 2008, available online at http://scholar.google.com/scholar_casecase=539914676565787507&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr. Similarly, in Halsted v. City of Portland, the jury awarded $125,000 in punitive damages and $81,372 in economic and non-economic damages following the use of Taser on an individual suspected of having graffiti-tagged a building, finding that such force was excessive in the circumstances.US District Court of Oregon, Daniel Halsted v. City of Portland and Officer Benjamin David, Jury verdict form 3:10-cv-00619-AC, filed 13 March 2012, available online at http://www.aele.org/law/Halsted-Portland.pdf.
In the case of the latter, the plaintiffs in Jacobs v. City of Fort Worth were awarded $2 million in compensation following the death of an individual following prolonged exposure to Taser.US District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Fort Worth Division, Michael Patrick Jacobs et al. v. The City of Fort Worth et al., Final Judgment, Action No 4:09-CV-513-Y filed 05/09/2011, as reported in Americans for Effective Law Enforcement Electronic Control Weapons: Case Summaries http://www.aele.org/law/Digests/ECWcases.html. Similarly, in Harris County v. Nagel, the county was ordered to pay over $2.4 million in compensation following a wrongful death law suit involving Taser.Texas Court of Appeal, Harris County, Texas v. Nagel, 14-09-00780-CV, 349 S.W.3d 769, 7 June 2011, as reported in Americans for Effective Law Enforcement Electronic Control Weapons: Case Summaries, http://www.aele.org/law/Digests/ECWcases.html. In Salinas v. City of San Jose, a jury awarded a total of $1 million to the family of Steve Salinas, who died following repeated Taser discharges.US District Court for the Northern District of California, Noreen Salinas, Anna Salinas, Carlos Salinas and Loretta Salinos v. City of San Jose, Barry Chikayasu, Jason Woodall, Roderick Smith, Michael Mclaren, Case No. CV 09-4410 EJD consolidated with CV 08-0265 EJD, filed 12 July 2013, available at: http://www.aele.org/law/Salinasjury2013.pdf.
Last updated on: 11 February 2014
Electricity was being used as a weapon long before the advent of projectile electric-shock devices. The invention of the electric chair, first used for executions in 1890,Darius Rejali, Torture and Democracy, Princetown Press, 2007, p. 24. was one of the earliest such uses of electricity – and by definition was for lethal not ‘less-lethal’ ends. Since then, existing electrical devices have been adapted, and new electrical weapons developed, with a view to producing outcomes short of death.
One of the earliest examples of adaptation was the ‘dual purpose magneto’ — a generator that produces a ‘high voltage spark’ and which was often to be found in portable field telephones — which was used by French colonial troops in the 1930s in Vietnam for ‘interrogation’ and ‘torture’;Ibid., pp. 145–6. ‘widely used’ by the US Military and the Army of the Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam WarMichael Peterson, ‘Designed for Disappearance: The U.S. military field telephone TA-312/PT and the performance principle of torture’, Performance Research: A Journal of the Performing Arts, Vol. 12, No. 4 (2010), p. 143. and whose use ‘spread to Asia, Africa, South America, North America and the Middle East’.Rejali, Torture and Democracy, p. 167. Another example was the use of the electric cattle prod, or ‘picana electrica’, most commonly used in Argentina.
Electric-shock weapons specifically intended for less-lethal use on human beings were also developed. A patent for an electrified police baton was introduced in 1964 by the main manufacturer of electric cattle prods,Rejali, Torture and Democracy, p. 228. and today a plethora of similar devices exist, including stun batons and stun ‘guns’. However, these ‘contact’ electric-shock weapons differ markedly from their projectile electric-shock counterparts. Unlike the latter, the shock cannot be delivered from a distance as the weapon must be pressed directly against an individual to produce an electric shock, and the intended effect of this shock is localized pain, as opposed to neuromuscular incapacitation (see the Impact section for more details).
Work soon started on projectile electric-shock weapons which would overcome these issues, with a series of patents for Taser, and the circuitry underpinning them, filed in the early 1970s by the inventor John Cover.Rejali, Torture and Democracy, p. 229. According to the original patent, the product envisaged was one which would deliver an ‘electric charge sufficient to immobilize’ via ‘a harmless projectile’ — variously conceived — that is ‘connected by means of a relatively fine, conductive wire.’Seantal Anais, ‘Conducted Energy Weapons’ in S. Dam and J. Hall (eds.), Inside and Outside of the Law: Perspectives on Evil, Law and the State, Interdisciplinary Press, 2008, p. 53.
Yet initial resistance from various groups (including the military, police, and airlines); ongoing technical issues; and changes to the legal classification of the product meant that the weapon’s use was not initially widespread. Eventually an earlier version of the Taser models in use today — with more power than the first patented creations, dart-firing probes, and a trigger which stayed depressed once the officer’s thumb was taken off — was taken up by the Los Angeles Police in the 1980s, and then more broadly.Rejali, Torture and Democracy, p.229. Additional Taser models — the M26, X26 and the ‘next generation’ of products: the X2, X3, and X26P — all of which work on the dart-firing principle, were refined and produced, and competitors, both in the USA and abroad, also started producing their own versions of projectile electric-shock technology, to rival Taser designs.
Today, use of projectile electric-shock weapons, particularly of the Taser models, is widespread. Statistics from Taser International state that, as of June 2012, Taser brand weapons had been sold to 16,880 law enforcement and military agencies worldwide, and were available in 107 countries.http://www.taser.com/press-kit.
Last updated on: 11 February 2014
Projectile electric-shock weapons come in a range of forms and are produced by a range of different companies. Unlike contact electric-shock weapons, which are only capable of producing pain, projectile electric-shock weapons aim to cause neuromuscular incapacitation by producing an electrical pulse which interferes with communication between the brain and the muscles. When successful this results in involuntary muscle contractions and impaired motor skillshttp://www.taser.com/research-and-safety/how-a-taser-works. — as well as intense pain — for at least as long as the duration of the shock. These systems are thus meant to be more effective than those that rely on pain compliance alone. Neuromuscular incapacitation is believed to result from a combination of several factors, including the pulse used,http://www.taser.com/research-and-safety/how-a-taser-works. the frequency of the pulses, and the spacing of the probes.Police Scientific Development Branch, PSDB Evaluation of Taser Devices, 2002, http://www.lawanddemocracy.org/pdffiles/psdb09-02.pdf, p. 4. (For more on the intended and unintended effects of these devices, see the Impact page).
The most commonly used design is that of an electric-shock delivered via two insulated, tethered darts with a range that usually varies from 4.5 to 10 metres,http://www.taser.com/products/law-enforcement/taser-cartridges. depending on the cartridge selected. The most widely known manufacturer of such devices is Taser International, which has produced a range of probe-firing weapons. These include the M26, X26, and the ‘next generation’ of products, the X2, X3, and X26P which vary in terms of the electric-charge produced, the additional accountability features available with the product, and the size, shape, and colour of the unit.
Similar designs have been produced and/or marketed by rival companies in the USAe.g. http://www.karbonarms.com. and by companies in the Russian Federation,http://marchgroup.ru/. Brazilhttp://www.condornaoletal.com.br., Taiwan,http://www.jiunan.com.tw/en/defense/stungun-x1.html. and China.http://www.andarm.net/product1_3_1.asp. Several of these alternative designs are multi-purpose, capable of firing not only wired electric-shock darts, but kinetic impact and chemical irritant projectiles as well. While projectile electric-shock darts or probes remain by far the most common system, a range of other projectile electric-shock weapons—both wireless and wired—have been developed and marketed. These include:
Last updated on: 11 February 2014
Projectile electric-shock weapons aim to cause neuromuscular incapacitation by producing an electrical pulse that interferes with communication between the brain and the muscles. When successful, this results in involuntary muscle contractions and impaired motor skillshttp://www.taser.com/research-and-safety/how-a-taser-works. — as well as intense pain — for at least as long as the duration of the shock. However, debate about the exact impact of projectile electric-shock weapons is fierce and wide-ranging. In this section, the focus is on the impact of Taser products, as these are the models most widely deployed and most commonly studied.
Efficacy rates for Taser vary both between models and between different assessments of the same model. Efficacy rates for the Taser X26, one of the most widely used models, vary from 95%As claimed by the manufacturer; New York Times, 21 January 2005. to ‘74% to 52% depending on distance to the target’ for the X26 and M26.The Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Human Effects Center of Excellence, Human Effectiveness and Risk Characterization of the Electromuscular Incapacitation Device: A Limited Analysis of the TASER, 2005, p. ii, at: http://cironline.org/sites/default/files/legacy/files/HECOEReport.pdf. Little information is available for products other than the Taser brand. However, Amnesty International has documented 334 deaths subsequent to Taser use in the USA between 2001 and 2008.Amnesty International, Less than lethal? The use of stun weapons in US Law Enforcement, 2008, http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AMR51/010/2008/en/530be6d6-437e-4c77-851b-9e581197ccf6/amr510102008en.pdf. Other tallies claim the number of deaths worldwide were as high as 794 (as of 2011).http://truthnottasers.blogspot.co.uk/2008/04/what-follows-are-names-where-known.html. Projectile electric-shock weapons have also been associated with a range of health concerns, both resulting from the weapon itself and the external circumstances surrounding its use.
The 2013 Taser product warning notes that ‘the loss of control resulting from a CEW exposure may result in injuries due to a fall or other uncontrolled movement.’ It goes on to caution against use on ‘a person who is on an elevated or unstable surface ... could fall and suffer impact injury to the head or other area; could fall on a sharp object or surface … is less able to catch or protect self in a fall; ... is running, in motion, or moving under momentum ... (including) riding any mode of transportation; ... or is located in water, mud, or marsh environment if the ability to move is restricted.’http://www.taser.com/images/resources-and-legal/product-warnings/downloads/law-enforcement-warnings.pdf.
A paper in the journal The America Surgeon also highlighted the ‘potential danger of significant head injuries as a result of loss of neuromuscular control’, risks that are underscored by American jurisprudence, including Snauer v. City of Springfield, where the Court determined that the use by a Springfield police officer of a Taser on a fleeing suspect while the latter was at the top of a six- to seven-foot-high fence was objectively unreasonable. When the suspect was hit by the probes, he became temporarily paralysed, plunged head-first to the other side unable to break his fall, and sustained multiple spinal fractures.B. Mangus, L. Shen, S. Helmer, ? Maher, , Smith, J ‘Taser and Taser Associated Injuries: A Case Series’, The American Surgeon, Vol. 74 (2008), p. 9; and Law International Inc., ‘Summary of Snauer v. City of Springfield’, Electronic Control Devices: Legal Resources website, www.ecdlaw.info/.
Another significant cause of injury can occur when Taser is used around flammable substances, which include certain chemical irritant sprays used by the police.Braidwood Commission on Conducted Energy Weapon Use 2008, Part 9: Medical Risks, http://www.braidwoodinquiry.ca/report/P1Report.php, p. 266.
Perhaps more contentious is the direct impact of the weapon itself, not least as there remain large gaps in our collective knowledge. For example, studies on repeated and/or continuous exposure to Taser are lacking. Indeed, Taser International has noted that ‘most human CEW lab testing has not exceeded 15 seconds of CEW application, and none has exceeded 45 seconds’,Taser International Product Warnings, op. cit. and a study in 2013 was ‘the first that has attempted to isolate specific bioeffects associated with continuous long duration exposure.’D. Jenkins, B. Murray, M. Kennett, L. Hughes, and J. Werner, ‘The Effects of Continuous Application of the TASER X26 Waveform on Sus scrofa’, Journal of Forensic Sciences, Vol. 58, No. 3 (2013), p. 684.
Of the studies that have been conducted, relatively few have been conducted on humans, and those that have, often use police officers as their subjects. The literature that does exist has highlighted potential areas for concern, including the following:
Last updated on: 11 February 2014