An emergency medicine researcher at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center has just published the first large, independent study of injuries from conducted electrical weapon (CEW) or Taser use, finding that serious injuries occurred in fewer than 1 percent of 1,201 Taser uses by law enforcement officers.
The study, led by William P. Bozeman, M.D., of Wake Forest University School of Medicine, is now available online in the Annals of Emergency Medicine ("Safety and Injury Profile of Conducted Electrical Weapons Used By Law Enforcement Officers Against Criminal Suspects") and is scheduled to appear in a future print issue of the journal.
The findings represent a three-year review of 1,201 CEW uses at six law enforcement agencies across the United States . The study was funded by the National Institute of Justice.
"These weapons appear to be very safe, especially when compared to other options police have for subduing violent or combative suspects," Bozeman said. "That is not to say that injuries and deaths are impossible. Police and medical personnel need to be aware of the potential for serious injury and look for evidence that a person subdued by a Taser has been hurt."
The study reports that 99.75 percent of criminal suspects shocked by a CEW received no injuries or mild injuries only, such as scrapes and bruises. Of the 1,201 criminal suspects, 492 suffered mild injuries, mostly (83 percent) superficial puncture wounds from the Taser probes. Of the three subjects who sustained significant injuries, two suffered from head injuries related to falls; the third developed rhabdomyolysis, or a rapid breakdown of muscle tissue. Ninety-four percent of the suspects were male, and alcohol or intoxication was documented in almost half of the cases (49.5 percent).
A physician at each participating agency reviewed police and medical records after each CEW use. Injuries were identified and classified as mild, moderate or severe.
More than two-thirds of United States law enforcement agencies currently use CEWs. They are credited with decreasing police officer and suspect injuries and deaths due to police use of force. However, the devices have been surrounded with controversy.
"While injuries from Taser use are uncommon, they are not unheard of," Bozeman said. "Subjects exposed to a CEW discharge should be assessed for injuries, and appropriate medical evaluation should be provided when non-trivial injuries are apparent or suspected. Existing medical and/or psychiatric conditions in the suspect may also cause or contribute to the behavior that leads police to use a Taser or other physical force. These underlying conditions may require medical assessment and treatment, independent of Taser exposure."
Co-authors were J. Tripp Winslow, M.D., M.P.H., of Wake Forest University , William E. Hauda, M.D., of Inova Fairfax Hospital ( Va. ), Joseph J. Heck, D.O., of University Medical Center ( Nev. ), Derrel Graham, M.D., and Brian Martin, M.D., M.S., of Louisiana State University-Shreveport ( La. ).