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7 Feb, 2018 17:37

Police killing vulnerable people with Tasers, new research shows

Police killing vulnerable people with Tasers, new research shows

Vulnerable groups of people, including the elderly, pregnant women, and people with heart conditions, make up half of the Taser deaths caused by US police, according to a new investigation by Reuters.

  People who could be classified as ‘vulnerable’ comprise more than half of the 1,028 cases identified by Reuters in which people died after being shocked by Tasers. Out of these, 245 people had a heart condition and 643 people were drunk or high on drugs.  

Nearly a third of the US population can be considered a ‘vulnerable’ group  and are at greater risk of death or injury from Taser shocks, the Reuters report found.  Stun guns are used by police to immobilize targets by delivering a painful electric shock.

Axon Enterprise Inc, the Arizona-based company which produces Taser guns, warns against using them on “higher risk populations.” These people should be targeted “only if the situation justifies an increased risk” of injury or death, the company said.

Since 2005, more than 60 percent of the 1,028 people who died in police confrontations involving Tasers were either drunk or on drugs, according to data collected by Reuters. People who are intoxicated by drugs face higher risks of medical consequences from Tasers’ electrical current.

Since 2001, there were 19 incidents of women stunned while pregnant, with at least 11 of these followed by a miscarriage, according to Reuters. In 2009, pregnant women were designated a “higher risk population.” by Axon. Government authorities do not track miscarriages or other problems linked to pregnant women stunned by Tasers.

Tasers are unregulated as police weapons and there is no national system monitoring their use.

Moreover, there is a “disturbing racial disparity” in the use of Tasers on African Americans compared with white populations, according to a memo published in September 2017 from the Bar Association of San Francisco (BASF). The memo is addressed to the San Francisco Police Commission.

It cites figures reported by Amnesty International indicating that African Americans are disproportionately killed by Tasers in the United States.

The memo also highlighted research showing that Taser use by police can contribute to the “sudden death of people with mental conditions.”  

However, police officers maintain that stun guns are a safer and more efficient alternative to firearms. “There have been instances where we have saved a person’s life by using this piece of equipment,” Virginia Beach Police Chief James Cervera told Reuters.

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