Study: Tasers, properly used, limit injury
Their data provide valuable insights on police use of force before and after the use of CEDs. Alpert says questions about the safety and misuse of Tasers mirror concerns raised in the 1990s when pepper spray became a popular method used by law enforcement.
"Pepper spray was the 'new' less lethal weapon. Now it's the Taser, and, if used properly, it can be a great tool," Alpert said. "Often just seeing the laser dot of a CED on them will stop an assailant."
CEDs work by using two probes with small prongs on the end. Once discharged, propelled by compressed air up to 15 feet, the prongs attach to a person's clothing or skin and emit electrical impulses that temporarily impair a person's neuro-muscular control. This gives an officer a brief window to cuff a suspect and to control him.
Because CEDs impair neuro-muscular control, they are particularly effective on men because of their greater muscle mass.
The study looked at reported cases of death associated with the use of CED. While low in rate, a few resulted from excessive rounds of CED use. Whether use of a CED led to or played a role in the death in the majority of cases, was unclear.
Excessive use and the potential for abuse was the second key finding of the university study. "We found evidence of 'lazy cop syndrome,'" Alpert said. "Some police officers are over-reliant on CEDs and are not putting their hands on the suspect. Prisoners are punished when officers use a CED too often and at too low of a level."
Degree of time between discharges can vary, he said. Typically, CEDs are set at five-second cycles. If after 15 seconds or three "rides" of a CED and the assailant is not controlled, officers should resort to other methods such as hitting or using a baton, Alpert said. Alpert said good CED policies and training, monitoring and systems for accountability can remedy and discourage such abuse.
"It would be a horrible mistake for cops to lose their Tasers," Alpert said. "It is a matter of controlled use and good training."
Findings from the study will appear in the American Journal Public Health in 2010.