Taser International, maker of the widely used Taser stun gun, is now recommending that police officers not directly aim for the chest to avoid the risk of heart-related injuries and to reduce their potential exposure to liability through police brutality lawsuits.
Although Taser has maintained that their weapons are safe and do not deliver life-threatening force, according to a recent memo issued to police agencies throughout the United States, they now suggest that there is a risk of heart attacks or other heart problems that could be caused by the stun guns.
Taser has said it issued the warning not because it believes that the weapons are dangerous, but as a means of legal risk management for law enforcement agencies using their weapons. However, critics have characterized the recommendations as a passive admission that Taser stun guns can cause heart attacks. Taser has disagreed with this interpretation of their recommendations.
The new recommendations, included in a revised training manual, note that the possibility of someone having a cardiac arrest after recently being shot with a stun gun could place Taser and police in the difficult role of having to determine whether the stun gun was a contributing factor. To avoid that, the company recommends that law enforcement agencies train their officers to fire the gun below the chest.
This has left many police agencies confused over how to deal with these recommendations, as most officers are trained to shoot for the central chest area, known as “center mass”, and the Taser can be difficult to aim with precision. In a report by the St. Petersburg Times, Tampa police expressed concern about the variability in where Taser needles strike a target, as compared to a bullet, because the needles spread out when fired.
Last year, Amnesty International called for police departments throughout the United States to stop using Taser guns or strictly limit their use to life-threatening situations as a result of the growing number of Taser deaths. According to a report released last December by the human rights group, 334 deaths have been linked to use of Taser guns between 2001 and August 2008.
Amnesty noted that 90% of the Taser-related deaths they examined involved people who were unarmed and did not appear to present a serious threat to the officers. A large number of the fatalities involved misuse of the weapons, including multiple Taser shocks or exposing suspects to prolonged shocks.