May 18 2009
According to new research from the United States few patients suffered ill effects which warranted them being hospitalised after police used a Taser to subdue them.
A study led by Dr. Jared Strote at the University of Washington Medical Center examined the medical records of nearly 900 patients subdued by the Seattle Police Department with a Taser over a six-year period and found that less than 1% required hospital admission for an injury related to the restraint incident and no deaths occurred, even when patients showed signs of excited delirium.
Another study also led by Dr. Strote looked at every use of force by the Seattle Police Department in one year and found that despite nearly 900 incidents, injuries related to the use of force were rare and again just over 1% needed to be admitted to hospital - the two deaths which did occur were both due to the use of firearms.
The researchers say that injuries inflicted by police officers in the process of subduing suspects are relatively rare but there is often a high incidence of drug and alcohol use and psychiatric history among those being restrained.
The two studies - “Injuries Associated With Law Enforcement Use Of Conducted Electrical Weapons” and “Injuries Associated With Law Enforcement Use Of Force,” were presented at a Trauma forum in New Orleans on Sunday, May 17th and could to some extent settle the issue of the use of such methods of control by police in Australia.
Concerns were raised over the use of Taser guns by police officers by the New South Wales Ombudsman late last year when calls were made for tighter regulation of Taser use by police after $1 million worth of the stun guns were delivered to senior officers at 80 Local Area Commands last month.
NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said the Tasers had been deployed to defuse potentially life-threatening situations.
However Ombudsman Bruce Barbour expressed concerns they might be used in more commonplace situations and said the police needed to be extremely careful using Tasers because they were a less lethal weapon, but nevertheless still lethal.
Mr Barbour called for a two-year stoppage on any further rollout of Tasers to police, pending a further independent review and said police standard operating procedures relating to Taser use are inadequate.
Mr Barbour said there are known risks with using Tasers and conflicting medical and scientific opinions as to whether Tasers could cause irregular heart rhythm, including ventricular fibrillation which is a life-threatening condition and police must receive clear, comprehensive and consistent guidance to ensure safe and effective use of the weapon.
Mr Barbour said he had found Tasers were typically used in dealing with male, Caucasians, under 40, with mental health problems who were often thought to be armed with one or more weapons - many were intoxicated at the time Tasers were used on them.
The Ombudsman made 29 recommendations to improve safety, effectiveness and accountability of Taser use.
But the fatal shooting by police of a 15-year-old boy in Melbourne last year prompted Victoria's police union to renew its call for all officers to be armed with taser guns - the boy was shot in the chest by three policemen after he threatened them with two knives in the Melbourne suburb of Northcote - Victoria's police union said a Taser gun may have prevented the fatality.
Police had apparently fired warning shots and used capsicum spray to subdue the boy, with no effect.