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

Published:January 22, 2009DOI:
      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.
      To read this article in full you will need to make a payment

      Purchase one-time access:

      Academic & Personal: 24 hour online accessCorporate R&D Professionals: 24 hour online access
      One-time access price info
      • For academic or personal research use, select 'Academic and Personal'
      • For corporate R&D use, select 'Corporate R&D Professionals'


      Subscribe to American Journal of Cardiology
      Already a print subscriber? Claim online access
      Already an online subscriber? Sign in
      Institutional Access: Sign in to ScienceDirect


      1. Law Enforcement Overview.
        Taser International, Scottsdale, AZ2008 (
      2. Amnesty International reiterates call to suspend police use of tasers following airport death [news release].
        ( Amnesty International, 2008
      3. Amnesty International's continuing concerns about Taser use.
        ( Amnesty International, 2008
      4. Q4 2007 Investor Presentation.
        ( Taser International, Scottsdale, AZ2007
      5. Statistics, Felony Arrests.
        ( Office of the Attorney General, 2008
      6. Population Finder.
        ( US Census, 2008
        • Lakkireddy D.
        • Wallick D.
        • Ryschon K.
        • Chung M.K.
        • Butany J.
        • Martin D.
        • Saliba W.
        • Kowalewski W.
        • Natale A.
        • Tchou P.J.
        Effects of cocaine intoxication on the threshold for stun gun induction of ventricular fibrillation.
        J Am Coll Cardiol. 2006; 48: 805-811
        • Lakkireddy D.
        • Wallick D.
        • Verma A.
        • Ryschon K.
        • Kowalewski W.
        • Wazni O.
        • Butany J.
        • Martin D.
        • Tchou P.J.
        Cardiac effects of electrical stun guns: does position of barbs contact make a difference?.
        Pacing Clin Electrophysiol. 2008; 31: 398-408
        • Nanthakumar K.
        • Billingsley I.M.
        • Masse S.
        • Dorian P.
        • Cameron D.
        • Chauhan V.S.
        • Downar E.
        • Sevaptsidis E.
        Cardiac electrophysiological consequences of neuromuscular incapacitating device discharges.
        J Am Coll Cardiol. 2006; 48: 798-804
        • Wu J.Y.
        • Sun H.
        • O'Rourke A.P.
        • Huebner S.
        • Rahko P.S.
        • Will J.A.
        • Webster J.G.
        Taser dart-to-heart distance that causes ventricular fibrillation in pigs.
        IEEE Trans Biomed Eng. 2007; 54: 503-508
        • Walter R.J.
        • Dennis A.J.
        • Valentino D.J.
        • Margeta B.
        • Nagy K.K.
        • Bokhari F.
        • Wiley D.E.
        • Joseph K.T.
        • Roberts R.R.
        TASER X26 discharges in swine produce potentially fatal ventricular arrhythmias.
        Acad Emerg Med. 2008; 15: 66-73
        • Pippin J.J.
        Taser research in pigs not helpful.
        J Am Coll Cardiol. 2007; 49: 731-733
        • Cao M.
        • Shinbane J.S.
        • Gillberg J.M.
        • Saxon L.A.
        Taser-induced rapid ventricular myocardial capture demonstrated by pacemaker intracardiac electrograms.
        J Cardiovasc Electrophysiol. 2007; 18: 876-879
        • Kim P.J.
        • Franklin W.H.
        Ventricular fibrillation after stun-gun discharge.
        N Engl J Med. 2005; 353: 958-959
        • Levine S.D.
        • Sloane C.M.
        • Chan T.C.
        • Dunford J.V.
        • Vilke G.M.
        Cardiac monitoring of human subjects exposed to the taser.
        J Emerg Med. 2007; 33: 113-117
        • Vilke G.M.
        • Sloane C.
        • Levine S.
        • Neuman T.
        • Castillo E.
        • Chan T.C.
        Twelve-lead electrocardiogram monitoring of subjects before and after voluntary exposure to the Taser X26.
        Am J Emerg Med. 2008; 26: 1-4
        • Sloane C.M.
        • Chan T.C.
        • Levine S.D.
        • Dunford J.V.
        • Neuman T.
        • Vilke G.M.
        Serum troponin I measurement of subjects exposed to the Taser X-26(R).
        J Emerg Med. 2008; 35: 29-32
        • Vilke G.M.
        • Sloane C.M.
        • Bouton K.D.
        • Kolkhorst F.W.
        • Levine S.D.
        • Neuman T.S.
        • Castillo E.M.
        • Chan T.C.
        Physiological effects of a conducted electrical weapon on human subjects.
        Ann Emerg Med. 2007; 50: 569-575
        • Strote J.
        • Range Hutson H.
        Taser use in restraint-related deaths.
        Prehosp Emerg Care. 2006; 10: 447-450
        • Jenkinson E.
        • Neeson C.
        • Bleetman A.
        The relative risk of police use-of-force options: evaluating the potential for deployment of electronic weaponry.
        J Clin Forensic Med. 2006; 13: 229-241
        • Stratton S.J.
        • Rogers C.
        • Green K.
        Sudden death in individuals in hobble restraints during paramedic transport.
        Ann Emerg Med. 1995; 25: 710-712
        • Jauchem J.R.
        • Sherry C.J.
        • Fines D.A.
        • Cook M.C.
        Acidosis, lactate, electrolytes, muscle enzymes, and other factors in the blood of Sus scrofa following repeated TASER exposures.
        Forensic Sci Int. 2006; 161: 20-30
        • Ho J.D.
        • Miner J.R.
        • Lakireddy D.R.
        • Bultman L.L.
        • Heegaard W.G.
        Cardiovascular and physiologic effects of conducted electrical weapon discharge in resting adults.
        Acad Emerg Med. 2006; 13: 589-595