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Police departments say Taser is safe, but rules examined

Jun 10, 2012 - By Emily Etheredge, Staff Writer

Riverton chief of police Mike Broadhead said his department's policy on using the weapon has been revised.

The American Heart Associa-tion warned recently that Tasers can cause heart problems and death.

Riverton police chief Mike Broadhead said his department already has changed its policy on the use of the weapon, which uses an electrical charge carried by wired projectiles to immobilize a suspect.

The study published online by the official journal publication Circulation examined eight cases involving the Taser x26 ECD. Seven of the people examined died.

The study stated that the background rationale was to test the safety of electronic control devices (ECDs) and "to analyze in detail cases of the loss of consciousness associated with the ECD deployment."

Broadhead said the police department's policy on Tasers requires that be deployed only against someone who is physically resistive.

The lengthy definition of "phsyically resistive" essentially means that subjects must take some overt, physical action such as a strike or kick on an officer or an innocent person to merit being "tased."

Policy change

"At one time, the RPD did allow Tasers to be used against people resisting at much lower levels, and that gave me some pause," Broadhead said. "The current policy is in keeping with good standards and helps to minimize risks."

As for the report from the heart association, "I'm not sure that this new study is unbiased," Broadhead said, "and I'm not really sure it presents much data to support that the Taser is very risky. There are much higher risks associated with bad reactions to prescribed medication."

Dr. Douglas P. Zipes, a cardiologist at Indiana University, conducted the study on Tasers. In a university news release, he said he doesn't think the devices need to be abandoned, but users should exercise caution, avoid chest shocks, and monitor the person after shock to ensure there are no adverse reactions.

The RPD issues Tasers to each uniformed officer whose primary responsibility is handling emergency responses.

Broadhead said his officers are required to attend mandatory training prior to carrying a Taser as well as a bi-annual update training.

Zipes said he was in no way condemning Taser use but wanted people to be aware of the potential consequences.

Lander's use

The Lander Police Department's senior Taser instructor, Shawn McRae, said he has been tangled up with studies of Tasers for eight years and typically studies released gain public interest due to electricity.

"I have absolutely no concerns about the safety of a Taser and how it is used on a suspect. Now, if you apply this to a human body more than 58 times, you are going to see some physiological and metabolic changes. A glass of milk will not hurt you, but a 55 gallon barrel of milk will make you sick," McRae said.

McRae would like everyone to know that the majority of suspects who are tased are under the influence of potent chemicals such as cocaine, methamphetamine, phencyclidine (PCP), etc., which make someone susceptible to heart issues.

"This is a huge cloud that is often never mentioned. If we were talking about a healthy, clean, sober body, then it would be a little different than someone under the influence of drugs and alcohol," McRae said.

McRae said he has been tased several personally and still feels as if it is "the greatest and safest tool" if it is used correctly.

What is a Taser?

Tasers are tools that help to control combative subjects with an electrical current that disrupts voluntary control of muscles. The Taser works by interrupting the signals sent to the muscles. When someone is in the midst of a Taser cycle, the muscles are locked up and unable to perform.

"It doesn't hurt exactly, but it is a very uncomfortable feeling. As soon as the cycle ends, the effect is over. There are no lingering effects.

"Each cycle from a law enforcement Taser is five seconds in length, but there is a civilian version that gives a 25-second cycle which would seem to be a very unpleasant experience," Broadhead said.

Medical research reports can be viewed at Taser.com. Broadhead said a U.S. Department of Justice review found that 99.75 percent of suspects hit by a Taser had no significant injury as a result.

"There have been a ton of medical studies, lawsuits, etc., and I don't think there has ever been a substantial cardiac event directly caused by a Taser device," Broadhead said.

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