How safe are Tasers?

March 10, 2008 5:28:59 PM PDT
It's a sometimes controversial tactic used by police and now, for the first time, we are hearing what effects a Taser can have on a person when they are shocked. The Houston Police Department began using Tasers four years ago. The just-released study is the first of its kind for HPD. It tries to answer the question, are Tasers safe? The doctors who conducted the study says the short answer is yes, but critics aren't convinced.

Roughly 4,000 Tasers are being used by the Houston Police Department. But debate over their safety caused HPD to commission a medical review into whether or not Tasers cause deaths. Doctor Gary Vilke is one of the study's authors.

"Just because someone is dying after a Taser is used, in all 200 plus cases, there has never been a direct link to a Taser being the sole cause of death," he said.

Dr. Vilke says his study shows that suspects die from a variety of other problems, including being high on drugs. The study asserts that Tasers are generally safe, though its authors admit not enough independent studies have been done.

"The Taser device was not approved based on any type of medical study," said another doctor involved in the study. "It was approved by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission based on theory."

But several city council members were skeptical, saying this report is anything but scientific.

"I remember when I did take science, that science finds objective truth, not selectively picked," said Houston city councilmember Jolanda Jones.

Another point of concern is this study didn't focus specifically on the people who were Tased by Houston police officers.

HPD says an audit of specific Houston cases is now underway, but whether council members are satisfied with the study, this much is for certain...

"We need to make sure we develop the best policy, training and procedures that we can, because Tasers are not going anywhere," said HPD Executive Assistant Chief Charles McClelland.

The Houston Police Department says since the use of Tasers began, workers compensation claims have dropped several hundred thousand dollars a year, proof that the Taser is reducing police injuries. We are expecting the controller's audit of the city's Taser program in a few weeks.

Several companies are making Tasers just for women. They are smaller and in bright colors including pink. The Tasers run about $300 and you have to undergo a felony background check to get one.

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