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Relation of Taser (Electrical Stun Gun) Deployment to Increase in In-Custody Sudden Deaths

Published:January 22, 2009DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjcard.2008.11.046
      Despite controversy concerning their safety, use of electrical stun guns (Tasers) by law enforcement agencies is increasing. We examined the effect of Taser deployment on rates of (1) in-custody sudden deaths in the absence of lethal force, (2) lethal force (firearm) deaths, and (3) officer injuries (OIs) requiring emergency room visits. Under the Public Records Act and the Freedom of Information Act, 126 police and sheriff departments from California cities were mailed surveys requesting rates of each of the outcomes of interest for each of the 5 years preceding Taser deployment through the 5 years after deployment. To control for population size and crime rates, we used total annual arrests per city as reported to the Department of Justice. Fifty cities provided predeployment and postdeployment data on in-custody sudden death, 21 cities reported firearm deaths, and 4 cities reported OIs. The rate of in-custody sudden death increased 6.4-fold (95% confidence interval 3.2-12.8, p = 0.006) and the rate of firearm death increased 2.3-fold (95% confidence interval 1.3–4.0, p = 0.003) in the in the first full year after Taser deployment compared with the average rate in the 5 years before deployment. In years 2 to 5 after deployment, rates of the 2 events decreased to predeployment levels. We observed no significant change in the rate of serious OIs after Taser deployment. In conclusion, although considered by some a safer alternative to firearms, Taser deployment was associated with a substantial increase in in-custody sudden deaths in the early deployment period, with no decrease in firearm deaths or serious OIs.
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