Taser, International's stunning defenses

We discussed Tasers quite a bit on the old site (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here) but not since we moved to ScienceBlogs. Tasers are the only widely used "non-lethal weapons," delivering a jolt of 50,000 volts thrugh two small darts connected to the handheld gun by thin wires and shot into the target. The device is made by Taser, International and has been the subject of repeated reports of lethal outcomes (see concerns of Amnesty International), reports the company repeatedly and aggressively denies. The combination of being tasered and being on alcohol and drugs are suspected risk factors for dying from a tasering. These are often the situations where tasers are used, although there are also reports of deaths following use on people without these risk factors.

Not that you'd know it from Taser, International:

Zapping someone with 50,000 volts will never, ever, under any circumstances, help kill him. That's long been the assertion of executives at Taser International, Inc., makers of the controversial stun guns. Never mind the negative news coverage. Or the barrage of lawsuits. Or dozens and dozens of deaths that have allegedly been linked to police use of the weapons. Or the coroners' reports, for that matter. The company stands firm. (David Hamburg, Wired)

As Hamburg points out in the Wired article, the company has been extremely successful in defending itself against lawsuits, winning or getting dismissed 45 wrongful death cases, with no judgments against them so far. The company has also been active in funding experimental studies to show no harm from the devices. On the other hand, one of the few non company sponsored studies published in a peer reviewed scientific journal showed Tasers were much more powerful than publicly acknowledged and capable of causing fatal cardiac arrhythmias. Taser, International didn't like this study. They sued the scientist for defamation and attacked him as lacking the expertise to make such a judgment. Aggressive defense, indeed. That's firing back with live ammunition.

Their response to Amnesty International has been more rhetorical:

"Amnesty has repeatedly called for independent testing while ignoring the mounting independent comprehensive reports showing TASER technology is safe and effective. Anyone living in the real world in which law enforcement officers worldwide have to make split-second life or death decisions knows that Amnesty International's report and position is out of step with the needs of law enforcement concerning our proven life-saving technology," said Mr. Smith. ((Taser, International Press Release)

Hypocrisy, Thy Name is Taser, International. Because the company is also aggressively marketing a consumer version of their weapon, the C2. And the same law enforcement officers that Taser, International was championing in their press releases are not very happy. The company has turned a deaf ear:

Police groups say Taser International Inc.'s latest consumer weapon, a palm-sized stun gun in metallic pink and three other colors that will start shipping next month, may end up helping the bad guys.

"Inevitably, this will fall into criminal hands," said James Pasco, Washington-based executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, the largest law-enforcement labor union, with more than 325,000 members. "It will also be in a lot of untrained hands."

The union has barred Taser, the world's largest maker of stun guns, from exhibiting the new C2 weapon or any other at its convention in August. Seven states, including New York and New Jersey, have already outlawed consumer use of stunning devices. At least seven more bills seeking bans or regulation of ownership have been introduced in three states, including Texas. The International Association of Chiefs of Police sees "a training issue," said Albert Arena, a program manager.

"It's small enough to fit in your pocket, and we don't know about how it will be used," said Fred Wilson, director of operations at the Alexandria, Virginia-based National Sheriffs' Association, which is considering issuing guidelines to members about how to confront civilians wielding the weapons. "There is concern out there."


Taser has sold stun guns to consumers since 1994. The previous offerings have been more expensive and larger than the C2, making them harder to acquire and hide, according to law- enforcement officials. The C2 starts at $299 -- $100 cheaper than the M18, a pistol-shaped weapon modeled after the kind sold to law-enforcement agencies. (Bloomberg)

The idea of a non-lethal weapon is good. Better not to kill someone. On the other hand, weapons like this may not really be non-lethal, as the record indicates. If used as if they are, a night on the town or a teenager's little toot might be lethal. For the police, it is just another weapon that can be used against them.

I don't blame them for being unhappy.


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Recently read a news story saying there are 800,00 gang members in LA.
The number of police officers in LA? 708,000.

Crime rates are increasing in San Diego too. My mother will not go outside after dark anymore. (It's a rather dicey neighborhood anyway, always has been.)

I own a taser and have never had to use it. It's a large one, 6 inches long by 2 1/4 wide, 15 years old and still works great.

In respect to having never used it, well, there have been some situations while shopping in SLC that I've wondered if it would be necessary. One example: I recently backed out of a parking space and saw another car backing out while I was within their range, so I tooted the horn. This person squealed out of the parking lot and came up on my rear like there was going to be a problem. It was a concerning situation. So, to heck with it, I'll just let them hit me next time rather than risk uncontrolled anger reactions.

The new taser would be cheaper than a personal pistol, maybe I'll go that route.
I'm getting older revere, not as fast as I used to be and in all reality an easy target. With that said, I'll never willingly put myself in a situation where harm might come to me or another but let's be realistic, harm could happen anywhere.

Am I paranoid, no.

Toot? As in a hit of pot? I ask because pot is not a drug.

There is another 'non-lethal' weapon used by police that can maim or kill. The media obligingly call them 'rubber bullets', but some of them are bagshot -- a more lethal shot load than loose shot alone. The maker claims the bag is supposed to open up and fly 'flat', which is an aerodynamical impossibility.

Cops like them because they will violently put someone down and are guaranteed to hurt him badly, but because they are called 'rubber bullets' (containing no rubber) the cops are immune to charges of excessive force (not to mention assault with a deadly weapon).

Gork: Yes. Actually they are not rubber bullets. They are rubber covered bullets and they can kill people. But I don't think they are in widespread use compared to tasers. There are also "choke holds" which can kill a person, so you are right, it is not just tasers.

Isn't that why they're called "less lethal", not "non-lethal"? Given the choice between being shot and being tased, I know which I'd prefer.

Ryan: Not exactly the point. Tasers are now being used when physical restraint or nothing was used before. If they were really a substitute for a gun, you would be right.

The manufacturer's web site brags that "The Lithium Power Magazine is good for over 50 uses."

Fifty? Cripes, just how bad a neighborhood do you live in?

Wait... 800,000 gang members in LA? Out of 10 million people? One out of every 12 people in LA is a gang member? And one out of every 14 is a cop? Must be a lot of moonlighting going on.

Hang on a moment. Rubber coated bullets went out of use pretty much in the 70's if I recall. If you hit a rib or someone in the face with one at less than 25 feet, it will break it and/or kill them if you pop them in the head.

I dont know how many people have been taser'd to death but I can assure you its less damage than what a wood or metal baton would do. I can guarantee you that Rodney King would have rather have been taser'd. You hit someone with 50,000 volts you could induce a heart attack but you hit someone repeatedly on crack with a baton they are going to die in the ER. They MIGHT die if you taser them but you cant give a skull CPR. Too many times I have seen the baton come out and with lethal effects. The minor effects are a bruise, the majors pick up with a broken bone or two and leave off with death.

The bag cannon if you hit someone in the head with it also is pretty much fatal. Broken neck. But guys, what if they dont use this stuff? It will leave them with the baton, the hard bullet, and harsh language.

By M. Randollph Kruger (not verified) on 15 Jun 2007 #permalink

Don't they make conductive clothing anywhere? Metal thread
or carbon fiber will short out tasers, if you are electrically grounded the discharge may backfire to the sender. My best: supercharged conductive trenchcoat designed to zap back taser operators, muggers and rapists
Incinerate them with 5 megavolts...

Randy: No, you can't guarantee anything. Again, the issue is not using a taser instead of a gun but using one where you would use nothing. 4 year olds and grandmothers have been tasered. Amnesty International has counted up more than 150 taer related deaths. I'm not saying ban tasers. But many police departments use them with little or no training, there are risk factor for death (which coincide with the risk factors for being tasered) and the police are deeply concerned about them being used again them. Where you wouldn't shoot a cop (you don't want to be a cop killer) you might easily taser him or her. the baton is also dangerous, but cops get training in its use (and then go on to misues it, of course). But people at least understand the baton's capabilities and we don't claim they are harmless. We also don't have one single baton maker or people aggressively marketing batons to the public.

Yep Revere, you are right about that. They used to use specially milled baseball bats until the 70's.

Lou-I always mess with my neighbor who is the Sherrifs Deputy. I ask him about every week or so if he has beaten any good confessions out of anyone lately....

They used to use the crank type WWII telephone generators in Vietnam for torture. Lay them over a bed of chicken wire and clip the leads to the testicles and wire. Nine or ten cranks was generally enough I am told. Nowadays its a capacitor and a battery charger... or a taser. It works on the same principle. Coil, capacitor, battery and a trigger mechanism. The coil takes battery voltage and builds it up to 50,000 and loads the capacitor, then you shoot it into someone or use the touch leads (thats the blue lightning bolt across two leads kind) and kerzap.... you get a front end alignment.

Be aware though that some of the circles I run in, or brush against tell me that nerve agents are in our future. Instead of shooting someone you hit them with a nerve transmission interruption device and it injects you with stuff that takes you down in less than a second. No longer does the guy with the gun get shot. Four or five of these shots would have the same effect as one. Dissipation would be in 5 to 10 minutes. Plenty of time to get the cuffs on him and disarm. My fear? Cops bringing nerve agents to a gun fight.

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 16 Jun 2007 #permalink

I'm in one of my writing "moods," lately. So, here goes:

I entered the San Jose, California, Police Dept. Recruit Academy in November, 1973. We were taught a very strict policy on the "escalation of force." It went like this: Voice control; tell the subject that you are dealing with exactly what you want them to do. Repeat the demands, if they should fail to immediately comply (Example: it's an obvious arrest situation, and you tell the suspect to turn around, and interlace his fingers behind his head; this allows you to clamp your hand over his fingers, while you apply one cuff to one of his wrists, and then bring his arms down behind his back to apply the other cuff). Now, you know that they heard you, but they are simply not compliant. The next step is the use of the hands to apply a wrist-lock, or similar physical restraint. This only works on people who are semi-compliant to begin with. If you have an obviously resistant subject, you have (at that time; this is no longer the case, even in San Jose) less than lethal alternatives; chemical mace (pepper spray, these days; CS mace was far better; it wasn't necessary to hit them directly in the face for it to work), the baton (I used mine exactly twice; once on a guy armed with a knife), or the carotid restraint (frequently referred to as a "choke hold). The last resort was deadly force.

Under certain circumstances, you may be forced to go from the lowest level on the force policy...to the most extreme; in an instant. In one incident I was involved in (one of many, during twenty years in the Patrol Division) -- a domestic dispute -- the other officer with me took the wife outside to interview her, while I interviewed the husband in the living room. Without warning, he bolted down the hallway to their bedroom; I got to him just before he got to the loaded shotgun that was leaning against the wall, near the bed. The other cop was in there just seconds after I got to the guy; we booked his ass into Valley Medical, the County Hospital.

I used Mace on a number of occasions; on people who were not under the influence of meth, or pcp, it was very effective. And it is far more humane than the baton; baton strikes are limited to the upper body and the legs; they make a real mess, if you strike somone in the head, but a pcp'r will not even notice it. But they can break bones. Brian Oldfield, who in the mid-seventies was the world record holder in the shot put (I met him, once; a truly supreme asshole), and who stood about 6'8" and checked in around 280 pounds , made the mistake of resisting arrest at some bar in San Jose; one of the responding officers broke one of Brian's forearms with a baton strike. I heard he was pretty docile, after that.

My personal favorite was the carotid restraint. I used it dozens and dozens of times. The last few years before I retired, though, if you used the carotid restraint, you had to transport the subject to Valley Med, and have them medically assessed by a physician, before you transported them to booking. And once a carotid restraint had been employed, it could not be employed again. Those little regulations came into being because the cops in LA were killing people with "choke holds." Applied correctly, the person you were applying it to would lose consciousness in roughly 5 to 15 seconds. Violent pcp'rs could hold on for thirty seconds, or more, before they finally went out. And you had to get them cuffed really fast, because they would become conscious again in a matter of seconds.

My worst personal experience occurred at Valley Med; it was about five years before I retired. I arrested a drunk driver, and I had to clear him through Valley Med, and have a tech respond to draw a blood sample. It was a Saturday night, so the place was an absolute zoo, of course; when any of the other hospitals in the county ran out of emergency room space the overflow was always directed to Valley Med. I was sitting outside of one of the smaller emergency rooms; adjacent to the main room, which was one long corridor of gurney after gurney, with my drunk driver cuffed to one of the chairs (they're all bolted to the floor). Everything was just fine...until I heard a blood-curdling scream coming out of the room I was seated outside of. I ran in the room, and as soon as I got inside, this very large, and very powerful looking parolee -- who had been brought in from the county jail, under the influence of pcp -- stepped forward and kicked me in the stomach (I saw his chart, later; it said "this man's restraints are not to be removed for any reason whatsoever;" he was 5'10" and he weighed 210 pounds; he had just been released from prison, and he had obviously spent all of his joint time pumping iron). I threw the curtain that was suspended above his gurney around him, and drove him back against the wall. There were three nurses in the room, and they were all riveted to the floor. They were absolutely terrified. I yelled at them to go get help; they stood there. The parolee was loose, now, and there were scalpels, scissors, and various other cutting instruments all around. That asshole looked right at me, and from the look on his face, I half expected to see his head begin to slowly spin, like Regan in "The Exorcist." He said "I AM GOING TO KILL YOU!!!" And I knew, without the slightest doubt, that he was dead serious. Now, I could kill him. Totally clean kill. Just before I pulled my nine-millimeter out, to put an end to the argument, another cop, who had just brought another prisoner in, heard what was going on and ran into the room. He was from Morgan Hill, a town at the far south end of the county. He didn't say a word, but we both grabbed one end of the gurney, and together we were able to drive the lunatic back against the wall. Hospital Security had been notified, and they were on the way now. For one bizarre moment, a physician actually approached, and stood behind my shoulder. He said, "Be careful...this man is very dangerous!" I replied, "No shit, Doc?" And thought about adding "Well, in that case, maybe you better take this end of the gurney then?"

Three hospital security guards ran in, and looked at the situation. They did not look happy. I looked at the security guards, and the Morgan Hill cop, and said, "We're going to have to take this guy down...and he's going to go very hard." If we didn't get him controlled very quickly, we were going to have to kill him. "When I say, we all go!" Everyone understood. "NOW! We threw the gurney aside, and all five of us jumped on the guy; we were rolling around on the emergency room floor, and I was trying to get my arm around the guy's neck...while he was trying to get to my gun. I put him out before he could reach it. I went home early that night.

Two weeks later I was called in to the guy's parole revocation hearing. He was in waist chains, and was chained to a metal table. Never have I seen someone who so desperately wanted to kill me. He was returning to prison for at least five years. He was lucky; he came very, very close to being dead.

I retired from the police department in January, 1998. There is not a single night that passes, since that date, that I do not find myself back in uniform. Mostly mundane, and pedestrian dreams (like most of police work), but on occasion some terribly violent things still manage to work their way in. Oddly enough, even in the course of the dreams, I still know that I am retired. If you have ever thought about becoming a police officer, I would sincerely advise that you think long and hard about it. Its grip on you, in my opinion, and in my experience, appears to be permanent.

Dylan: Your writing moods are always worth waiting for. That's why I posted your stuff here way back when. My brother in law is a Sgt. in Highway in NYC. He's got his 20 in but I doubt he'll ever voluntarily retire. My nephew is a firefighter. I can't see him voluntarily retiring either. As for me, if I retired, no one would even know. Not even me.

decrepitoldfool: Sorry, must have put an extra zero in that figure. Tried to find the original story with no luck. Could only find this: Critics say overzealous prosecutors are trying to get headlines without making any lasting effect on the estimated 80,000 gang members in Los Angeles.

Dylan: San Jose is a rough part of the world, glad you made it out alive.

I agree, just shoot the SOBs with a gun. A nice double tap to the head is just what is needed to put down even the most rabid of beasts.

AF: Quite a charming sentiment. And useful, too. According to taste, you can take a word processor and do a search and replace of "SOB" with; Jews, Muslims, blacks, communists, atheists, Catholics, Hugenots, HIndus, etc. "Exterminate all the brutes." Very nice.

Recently read a news story saying there are 800,00 gang members in LA.
The number of police officers in LA? 708,000.

I can't speak to the first number, but the second one instantly suggested itself to be out of spec. Los Angeles is one of the most lightly policed large cities in the nation.

A quick bit of digging reveals that the budgeted strength of the LAPD circa 2004 was 9241 officers. My understanding is that they have been short on headcount for some years now. Perhaps the actual deployed figure is 7080?


marquer: Attempted to correct that mistake two posts above yours.
My nephew is a Detective in the Los Angeles police department however he rarely contacts family members.
Would be interesting to hear his take on so many things. Maybe I'll try to connect with him some time soon, and then again maybe not.