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A Taser is an electroshock weapon sold by Taser International. It uses electrical current to disrupt voluntary control of muscles causing "neuromuscular incapacitation". Someone struck by a Taser experiences stimulation of his or her sensory nerves and motor nerves, resulting in strong involuntary muscle contractions. Tasers do not rely only on pain compliance, except when used in Drive Stun mode, and are thus preferred by some law enforcement over non-Taser stun guns and other electronic control weapons.
Tasers were introduced as non-lethal weapons to be used by police to subdue fleeing, belligerent, or potentially dangerous people, who would have otherwise been subjected to more lethal weapons such as a firearm. A 2009 Police Executive Research Forum study said that officer injuries drop by 76% when a Taser is used. However, while Taser CEO Rick Smith has stated that police surveys show that the device has saved 75,000 lives, there has been some controversy where Tasers have been implicated in instances of serious injury or death.
Jack Cover, a NASA researcher, began developing the Taser in 1969. By 1974, Cover had completed the device, which he named after his childhood hero Tom Swift ("Thomas A. Swift's electric rifle"). The Taser Public Defender used gunpowder as its propellant, which led the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to classify it as a firearm in 1976.
Taser International CEO Patrick Smith has testified in a Taser-related lawsuit that the catalyst for the development of the device was the "shooting death of two of his high school acquaintances" by a "guy with a legally licensed gun who lost his temper". In 1993, Rick Smith and his brother Thomas began to investigate what they called "safer use of force option[s] for citizens and law enforcement". At their Scottsdale, Arizona, facilities, the brothers worked with the "...original Taser inventor, Jack Cover" to develop a "non-firearm Taser electronic control device". The 1994 Air Taser Model 34000 had an "anti-felon identification (AFID) system" to prevent the likelihood that the device would be used by criminals; upon use, it released many small pieces of paper containing the serial number of the Taser device. The U.S. firearms regulator, the ATF, stated that the Air Taser was not a firearm. In 1999, Taser International developed an "ergonomically handgun-shaped device called the Advanced Taser M-series systems" which used a "patented neuromuscular incapacitation (NMI) technology". In May 2003, Taser International released a new weapon called the Taser X26, which used "shaped pulse technology". On July 27, 2009 Taser International released a new type of Taser called the X3 which can fire three shots before it must be reloaded. It holds three new type cartridges, which are much thinner than the previous model.
The Taser fires two small dart-like electrodes, which stay connected to the main unit by conductive wire as they are propelled by small compressed nitrogen charges. The air cartridge contains a pair of electrodes and propellant for a single shot and is replaced after each use. There are a number of cartridges designated by range, with the maximum at 35 feet (10.6 m). Cartridges available to non-law enforcement consumers are limited to 15 feet (4.5 m). The electrodes are pointed to penetrate clothing and barbed to prevent removal once in place. Earlier Taser models had difficulty in penetrating thick clothing, but newer versions (X26, C2) use a "shaped pulse" that increases effectiveness in the presence of barriers.
Tasers also provide a safety benefit to police officers as they have a greater deployment range than batons, pepper spray or empty hand techniques. This allows police to maintain a safe distance. A study of use-of-force incidents by the Calgary Police Service conducted by the Canadian Police Research Centre found that the use of Tasers resulted in fewer injuries than the use of batons or empty hand techniques. Only pepper spray was found to be a safer intervention option.
Some Taser models, particularly those used by police departments, also have a "Drive Stun" capability, where the Taser is held against the target without firing the projectiles, and is intended to cause pain without incapacitating the target. "Drive Stun" is "the process of using the EMD ( Electro Muscular Disruption) weapon [Taser] as a pain compliance technique. This is done by activating the Taser and placing it against an individual’s body. This can be done without an air cartridge in place or after an air cartridge has been deployed."
Guidelines released in 2011 in the U.S. recommend that use of Drive Stun as a pain compliance technique be avoided. The guidelines were issued by a joint committee of the Police Executive Research Forum and the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. The guidelines state "Using the ECW to achieve pain compliance may have limited effectiveness and, when used repeatedly, may even exacerbate the situation by inducing rage in the subject."
A study of U.S. police and sheriff departments found that 29.6% of the jurisdictions allowed the use of Drive Stun for gaining compliance in a passive resistance arrest scenario, with no physical contact between the officer and the subject. For a scenario which also includes non-violent physical contact, this number is 65.2%.
A Las Vegas police document says "The Drive Stun causes significant localized pain in the area touched by the Taser, but does not have a significant effect on the central nervous system. The Drive Stun does not incapacitate a subject but may assist in taking a subject into custody." "Drive Stun" was used in the UCLA Taser incident and the University of Florida Taser incident (which popularized the widespread use of the phrase "Don't Tase me, bro!").
Amnesty International has expressed particular concern about Drive Stun, noting that "… the potential to use Tasers in drive-stun mode—where they are used as 'pain compliance' tools when individuals are already effectively in custody—and the capacity to inflict multiple and prolonged shocks, renders the weapons inherently open to abuse."
There are two main police models, the M26 and X26. Both come with accessories including a laser sight and optional mounted digital video camera that can record in low-light situations. Taser International sells a civilian model called the C2. On 27 July 2009, Taser introduced the X3, capable of firing three times without reload.
TASER X2 Defender
The Taser Cam is a specialized device designed for the Taser X26 to record audio and video when the Taser's safety is disengaged. The cam is integrated into a battery pack and does not interfere with the Taser's existing function.
Taser use in Phoenix increased from 71 incidents in 2002 to 164 incidents in 2003. In Houston, however, police shootings did not decline after the deployment of thousands of Tasers.
According to the analysis of the first 900 police Taser incidents by the Houston Chronicle, no crime was being committed and no person was charged in 350 of those cases. In addition, it has been reported that the Houston Police Department has "shot, wounded, and killed as many people as before the widespread use of the stun guns" and has used Tasers in situations that would not warrant lethal or violent force, such as "traffic stops, disturbance and nuisance complaints, and reports of suspicious people."
In 2005, the American Civil Liberties Union stated that at least 148 people had died in the United States and Canada since 1999 after being shocked with Tasers by police officers, and Amnesty International stated that the number reached 500 in 2012.
A 2009 development has included marketing Tasers to the general public. A line of pink Tasers are specifically being marketed for women. The Taser website states "Who says safety can't be stylish?" in reference to its "latest designer TASER C2 colors" and patterns, which include leopard print patterns and a range of colors.
In 2010, one court ruled against the use of five imported Tasers by the Buenos Aires local police, to comply with a claim from the "Human Rights Observatorium", that states that tasers are considered an instrument of torture by NGOs and the Committee against Torture of the UN.
Possession, ownership and use of a stun gun (including Tasers) by civilians is considerably restricted, if not illegal in all States and Territories. The importation into Australia is restricted with permits being required.
Stun gun use in Australian law enforcement is as follows:
Use of the Taser is legal for the police. Its use is widespread mainly in the Guardas Municipais (Municipal Guards), who receive professional training in the use of electro-conductive pistols. Tasers are also used by military police and specialized forces. There are laws allowing their use by private security companies, but such use is unusual because of the expense of maintaining a Taser compared with an ordinary gun.
According to previous interpretation of the Firearms Act, Tasers were considered to be "prohibited weapons" and could be used only by members of law-enforcement agencies after they were imported into the country under a special permit. The possession of restricted weapons must be licensed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Canadian Firearms Program unless exempted by law. A 2008 review of the Firearms Act found that the act classifies "the Taser Public Defender and any variant or modified version of it" as "prohibited firearms". However, Canadian police forces typically treat Tasers as "prohibited weapons", inconsistent with the restrictions on firearms.
The direct source for this information comes from an independent report produced by Compliance Strategy Group for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The report is called An Independent Review of the Adoption and Use of Conducted Energy Weapons by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In the report that is available through access to information, the authors argued that the CEW was, for several years after its adoption by the RCMP, erroneously characterized as a prohibited "weapon" under the Criminal Code, as opposed to a prohibited "firearm". This misunderstanding was subsequently incorporated into the RCMP's operational policies and procedures as well as those of other police services in Canada. While the most recent RCMP operational manual, completed in 2007, correctly refers to the CEW as a prohibited firearm, a number of consequences of this error in classification remain to be dealt with by both the RCMP and other Canadian police services. Consequently, it could be argued the police in Canada may not have had the proper authority under their provincial policing Acts and Regulation to use the CEW in the first place. The point of unauthorized use by the police was also raised by Dirk Ryneveld, British Columbia's Police Complaint Commissioner at the Braidwood inquiry on June 25, 2008. Taser safety and issues have been extensively rehearsed and investigated after the Robert Dziekański Taser incident at Vancouver International Airport.
Tasers are not only legal in the Czech Republic, but vulnerable groups like pensioners and women are encouraged by the police to carry them for self-defense.
Tasers are used by the French National Police and Gendarmerie. In September 2008, they were made available to local police by a government decree, but in September 2009, the Council of State reversed the decision judging that the specificities of the weapon required a stricter regulation and control. However, since the murder of a policewoman on duty, the Taser is in use again by local police forces in 2010.
The purchase, possession, and carrying of Tasers in Germany is prohibited since April 1, 2008 (gun control law: Anlage 2, Abschnitt 1, Nr. 1.3.6. WaffG). However Tasers are in use in police special units, Spezialeinsatzkommando, (SEK) and others, in 13 out of 16 German states.
Under Hong Kong laws, Chapter 238 Firearms and Ammunition Ordinance, "any portable device which is designed or adapted to stun or disable a person by means of an electric shock applied either with or without direct contact with that person" is considered as 'arms' and therefore, the importation, possession and exportation of Tasers require a license by the Hong Kong Police Force which would otherwise be illegal and carries penalties up to a fine of $100,000 and 14 years in jail.
Use of Tasers is not prohibited in Iceland.
Specialist units of Ireland's national police force (Garda Síochána) use the X26 model; Special Detective Unit, Emergency Response Unit and Regional Support Unit. Issuing Tasers to all members of the force (who are generally unarmed) is current under consideration. Use of Tasers in Ireland by private individuals is prohibited.
Israeli Defense Force first usage
Tasers were first used by the Israeli Defense Force by the former special counter-terror unit Force 100 in 2004. The unit was disbanded in 2006. Tasers are expected to re-enter operational use by the Israeli Defense Forces in the near future.
As of August 18, 2013, the use of Tasers by Israeli police was temporarily suspended by Police Chief Yokhanan Danino; after such instruments were used repeatedly and excessively by police; against a person who allegedly was unarmed and who was not resisting a warranted arrest. But two weeks later the taser was unsuspended.
Tasers are not recognized under Kenyan law hence they are illegal.
Royal Malaysian Police are set to become the second in Southeast Asia police force after Singapore Police Force to use the non-lethal Taser X26 stun guns. The force had taken delivery of 210 units of the stun guns, known as the X26 electronic control device, which cost RM2.1 million, last year they have yet to be distributed to personnel on the ground. Taser would be included under the Firearms Act 1960. The Taser X26 set bought by Malaysian police comes with a holster and uses a non-rechargeable lithium battery able to deliver 195 cartridge shots. Policemen going on rounds will be issued four cartridges. The force began toying with the idea of using Tasers in 2003 when they purchased 80 units of the M26, the X26's bulkier predecessor. This was not made public as it was part of a testing exercise. The Tasers were issued to policemen in Petaling Jaya, Dang Wangi in Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru.
A large-scale and generally well received trial by the New Zealand Police saw Tasers presented almost 800 times and fired over 100 times, but firing was "ineffective" about a third of the time. The tasers had been "unintentionally discharged" more often than they had been used in the line of duty.
In October 2012, police said the Taser had been "very successful in de-escalating dangerous and potentially life-threatening situations". Since their introduction, Tasers had been presented 1320 times but only fired 212 times, resulting in 13 injuries.
Tasers and other electronic control devices are considered firearms in Sweden and are banned for civilian use. The Swedish police had purchased a limited quantity of Tasers, and was about to initiate field trials when these were cancelled in 2005 after an ethics commission found that the need for (and risks of) such devices was not firmly established. The purchased Tasers were then donated to Finland, where field trials were initiated.
Taser guns are now used by some British police as a "less lethal" weapon. It was also announced in July 2007, that the deployment of Taser by specially trained police units who are not firearms officers, but who are facing similar threats of violence, would be trialled in ten police forces. The 12-month trial commenced on 1 September 2007, and took place in the following forces: Avon & Somerset, Devon & Cornwall, Gwent, Lincolnshire, Merseyside, Metropolitan Police, Northamptonshire, Northumbria, North Wales and West Yorkshire.
Following the completion of the trial, the Home Secretary agreed on 24 November 2008 to allow chief police officers of all forces in England and Wales, from 1 December 2008, to extend Taser use to specially trained units in accordance with current Association of Chief Police Officers policy and guidance, which states that Taser can be used only where officers would be facing violence or threats of violence of such severity that they would need to use force to protect the public, themselves, and/or the subject(s).
Also, in Scotland Strathclyde Police agreed in February 2010 to arm 30 specially trained police officers using the Taser X26. The pilot would last three months and would be deployed in Glasgow City Centre and Rutherglen.
A fund for up to 10,000 additional Tasers is being made available for individual chief police officers to bid for Tasers based on their own operational requirements.
Taser devices are not considered firearms by the United States government. They can be legally carried (concealed or open) without a permit in 45 states. They are forbidden for citizen use in the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island, as well as certain cities and counties. Their use in Connecticut, Illinois, and Wisconsin is legal with restrictions.
Court cases in recent years have addressed the legality of taser use by police officers. In Bryan v. MacPherson, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a Taser had been used in a way that constituted excessive force and hence a violation of the Fourth Amendment. In the later case Mattos v. Agarano, the same Court of Appeals found that in two situations involving Taser use, one in Drive Stun and one in dart mode, officers had used excessive force. According to an article in Police Chief magazine, this decision implies guidelines for the use of Tasers and other Electronic Control Devices in gaining compliance (in a setting where safety is not an issue), including that the officer must give warning before each application, and that the suspect must be capable of compliance, with enough time to consider a warning, and to recover from the extreme pain of any prior application of the Taser; nor should Tasers be used on children, the elderly, and women who are visibly pregnant or inform the officer of their pregnancy.
In 1991, a Taser supplied by Tasertron to the Los Angeles Police Department failed to subdue Rodney King—even after he was shot twice with the device—causing officers to believe he was on PCP. Its lack of effectiveness was blamed on a possible battery problem.
Some of the deaths associated with tasers are given a diagnosis of excited delirium, a term for a phenomenon that manifests as a combination of delirium, psychomotor agitation, anxiety, hallucinations, speech disturbances, disorientation, violent and bizarre behavior, insensitivity to pain, elevated body temperature, and increased strength. Excited delirium is associated with sudden death (usually via cardiac or respiratory arrest) particularly following the use of physical control measures, including police restraint and tasers. Excited delirium most commonly arises in male subjects with a history of serious mental illness and/or acute or chronic drug abuse, particularly stimulant drugs such as cocaine. Alcohol withdrawal or head trauma may also contribute to the condition.
The diagnosis of excited delirium has been controversial. Excited delirium has been listed as a cause of death by some medical examiners for several years, mainly as a diagnosis of exclusion established on autopsy. Additionally, academic discussion of excited delirium has been largely confined to forensic science literature, providing limited documentation about patients that survive the condition. These circumstances have led some civil liberties groups to question the cause of death diagnosis, claiming that excited delirium has been used to "excuse and exonerate" law enforcement authorities following the death of detained subjects, a possible "conspiracy or cover-up for brutality" when restraining agitated individuals. Also contributing to the controversy is the role of taser use in excited delirium deaths.
Excited delirium is not found in the current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, however the term "excited delirium" has been accepted by the National Association of Medical Examiners and the American College of Emergency Physicians, who argued in a 2009 white paper that "excited delirium" may be described by several codes within the ICD-9. The American College of Emergency Physicians "rejects the theory" that excited delirium is an "invented syndrome" used to excuse or cover-up the use of excessive force by law enforcement.
Taser International asserts that the taser is safe for use on anyone weighing 60 pounds (27 kg) or more. Police officers that patrol schools, including grade schools, in several U.S. states (including Kansas, Minnesota, Kentucky, Virginia and Florida) have been carrying tasers since the early 2000s. In 2004, the parents of a 6-year-old boy in Miami sued the police department for firing a taser at their child. The police said the boy was threatening to injure his own leg with a shard of glass, and claimed that using the device was the only option to stop the boy from injuring himself. Nevertheless, the boy's mother told CNN that the three officers involved might have found it easier to reason with her child. Two weeks later, a 12-year-old girl skipping school was tasered in Miami-Dade. In March 2008, an 11-year-old girl was shocked by a Taser. In March 2009, a 15-year-old boy died in Michigan after being tasered.
Taser supporters suggest that the use in schools consists of merely switching on the device followed with threatening to use it, which can be effective in frightening violent or uncooperative students. This is the method, only if verbal reprimands have not succeeded. Critics counter that tasers may interact with pre-existing medical complications such as medications, and may even contribute to someone's death as a result. Critics also suggest that using a taser on a minor, particularly a young child, is effectively cruel and abusive punishment, or unnecessary.
A report from a meeting of the United Nations Committee Against Torture states that "The Committee was worried that the use of Taser X26 weapons, provoking extreme pain, constituted a form of torture, and that in certain cases it could also cause death, as shown by several reliable studies and by certain cases that had happened after practical use." Amnesty International has also raised extensive concerns about the use of other electro-shock devices by American police and in American prisons, as they can be (and according to Amnesty International, sometimes are) used to inflict cruel pain on individuals. For example, Eric Hammock of Texas died in April 2005 after receiving more than 20 Taser shocks by Fort Worth police officers. Maurice Cunningham of South Carolina, while an inmate at the Lancaster County Detention Center, was subjected to continuous shock for 2 minutes 49 seconds, which a medical examiner said caused cardiac arrhythmia and his subsequent death. He was 29 years old and had no alcohol or drugs in his system.
In response to the claims that the pain inflicted by the use of the Taser could potentially constitute torture, Tom Smith, the Chairman of the Taser Board, has stated that the U.N. is "out of touch" with the needs of modern policing.
Pepper spray goes on for hours and hours, hitting someone with a baton breaks limbs, shooting someone with a firearm causes permanent damage, even punching and kicking—the intent of those tools is to inflict pain, ... with the Taser, the intent is not to inflict pain; it's to end the confrontation. When it's over, it's over.
- —Taser Chairman Tom Smith
The American Civil Liberties Union has also raised concerns about their use, as has the British human rights organization Resist Cardiac Arrest.