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I've long been suspicious of the numerous studies that claim tasers are a non-lethal, safe weapon, and that the numerous deaths of people against whom a taser was used had little to do with their fatal outcomes.  Seems I wasn't the only one who thought these "studies" showing tasers were safe didn;t pass the smell test.  A team of cardiologists at The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) reviewed the existing studies ion tasers and discovered that nearly half of them had been either funded by Taser International (the manufacturer) or were written by researchers who had some connection to Taser International:

Dr. Peyman N. Azadani and Dr. Byron K. Lee looked at every study of Taser safety that they could find -- some 50 of them --  and found that 23 of the studies were funded by Taser International or written by an author affiliated with the company. [...]

The researchers found that studies either funded by Taser or written by authors who were affiliated with the company were significantly more likely to conclude the devices were safe than studies that were funded independently.

Some 96 percent of studies supported by Taser concluded that the devices were “not harmful” or “unlikely harmful.” By comparison, only 55 percent of the independent studies found the devices to be “not harmful” or “unlikely harmful.”

Source: The Bay Citizen (http://s.tt/...)

Remind you of all those drug studies funded by the Pharmaceutical Industry?  It sure does to me.  And whenever the manufacturer of the product in question has a connection to the researcher involved in studying thee safety of that product you have an inherent conflict of interest.  

That bias couldn't be more apparent in the case of research conducted on tasers by people funded or affiliated with "Taser International."   When Taser International related researchers found tasers 41% safer than independent researchers.  That's a pretty large difference and its not hard to infer that bias on the part of the researchers is the reason.  a small difference of 10% or so might be a mere coincidence, but 41%?  That defies any reasonable explanation other than bias.

And the truth is that the more tasers are employed by law enforcement the more deaths occur in situations that previously did not result in fatalities.  In 2009, one of the same authors of this new UCSF study had researched the issue of deaths among individuals in police custody and this is what he found:

The number of in-custody sudden deaths rose dramatically during the first year California law enforcement agencies began using stun guns, raising questions about the safety of the devices, according to a new study at UCSF. [...]

The researchers analyzed sudden death data from 50 law enforcement agencies in the state that use Tasers. They compared the death rate pre- and post-Taser deployment - analyzing data for five years before each agency began using Tasers and five years afterward.

They found a sixfold increase in sudden deaths during the first year of Taser use - amounting to nearly 6 deaths per 100,000 arrests.

"I didn't expect what we found," said Lee. "I thought we would find no difference in the rate of sudden death. But there was a rather dramatic rise."

In short, Taser International is selling an demonstrably unsafe, and potentially lethal device and claiming it is essentially harmless based on research that it funds or on research by that persons affiliated with Taser, International conduct.  That is borderline fraud and misrepresentation in my book.  Their marketing has led to the use of tasers in many circumstances for which they are clearly inappropriate such as using tasers onbed-ridden 86 year old women, people having diabetic seizures and people already restrained and in custody.

In short, tasers are being used far too often and inappropriately by police in no small part because Taser International has aggressively marketed these "stun guns" as non- lethal.  And to support that marketing Taser International has relied upon research that is clearly tainted by the company's own relationships with the researchers. Is it any wonder than that police use tasers as a means to force compliance with their orders even when the victims of the taser use are in custody or pose no threat to the officers involved?

What else could explain this?

Or this?

Or this:

As Dr. Lee, the UCSR researcher says:

“If the Taser is going to be used, it needs to be used with caution because it is not a perfectly safe device,” said Dr. Lee in an interview. “It’s obviously better than getting shot with a gun, but officers can’t use it with impunity because there are some real danger of getting shocked around the chest and near the heart.”

Source: The Bay Citizen (http://s.tt/...)

The trouble is that Taser International is sending a different message to police departments to which it sells its "non-lethal" weapons.  And that message we now know is based on flawed, unethical research sponsored by Taser International.  Tasers should only be employed in situations where a law enforcement  officer is at risk of injury or potential death.  Unfortunately, we know that tasers have been, and still are being used by law enforcement in many more circumstances than are warranted because of the manufacturer's misinformation regarding their safety.

The Ramp-Up: The X26 taser was introduced in mid-2003. The death toll per month immediately began to ramp up at that point. The average was steady at about 7 per month for several years.

Even on a per usage basis, the three highest years (death rate per stated 1000 uses) were 2004, 2005 and 2006. Immediately following the introduction of the X26.

The Trickle Down: Towards the end of 2007, with the taser-killing of Robert Dziekanski being caught on video, the media and public (including this blogger) finally began to take notice. At that point began a process to change policy and the death rate per month has shown a downward trend to a new, slightly-lower average of about five per month.

Cause and effect: If people go around claiming that tasers cannot kill, then the death rate climbs. When such lies are counter-acted with the facts, then the death rate drops.

Conclusion: False claims about taser safety can cause an increase in taser-associated deaths. Taser fan-boys should think about their role in these trends while they lie awake in the early hours...

Time to get the truth out about Taser International's false claims that tasers are safe, don't you think?  Otherwise more people will die needlessly or suffer injury in situations that do not mandate the use of these potentially lethal weapons.

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Comment Preferences

  •  A suggestion perhaps... (4+ / 0-)

    Abolish the term "non-lethal" as it applies to weapons, because there's no such thing.

    Require Tasers, other stun guns, glue guns, net guns, flash guns, beanbag rounds, dowel rounds, rock salt or ground rubber shotgun rounds, rubber-jacketed rounds, crowd-control grenades, flash grenades, and all that kind of stuff to be marketed, not as "non-lethal" but as "less-lethal". Discharging them should also be regulated as strictly as discharges of an obviously deadly weapon, and the system reformed to make improper discharge of a weapon a charge similar in severity to what it is for a "civilian", only a little more so (since police officers are trusted to use their weapons more wisely, in exchange for their power to arrest, detain, or kill).

    Something else, though? IIRC, makers of tear gas and pepper-spray products say in their documentation that, after a person is subdued and taken into custody, he should receive immediate medical attention to prevent the delicate membranes of the eyes, nose, mouth and throat from being damaged by prolonged contact with the product. That means quickly and thoroughly washing the face and eyes of the person and allowing him to drink, at the very least.

    I don't know if police officers aren't trained, or if they just don't give a damn - I think it would be fair to say it's probably a mixture of both, both within and between individual officers.

    "But there's one thing that gives every Marine the willies, and anyone saying otherwise is a liar. Drop pods. That shit is terrifying, son."

    by Shaviv on Tue May 10, 2011 at 06:26:28 AM PDT

  •  Taser International (5+ / 0-)

    has a policy of aggressively suing medical examiners and others who testify in court that their product is dangerous. Their house researchers claim any Taser death is the result of "excited delirium syndrome", a catch-all condition that is little more than a made-up reason to deflect responsibility from their product.

    Electricity is dangerous and potentially deadly. They use it to execute people in some states. Nobody should be surprised that people die from Tasers.

    "A lie is not the other side of a story; it's just a lie."

    by happy camper on Tue May 10, 2011 at 06:34:16 AM PDT

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