More than eight out of every 10 police departments in the U.S. now use Taser stun guns, according to a new report that suggests the number has increased by a factor of more than 10 since the turn of the century.
A Bureau of Justice Statistics report (PDF) published this month found that as of 2013, 81% of the more than 12,000 local police departments across the United States now authorize the use of what are known as conducted energy weapons (CEWS). In 2000, that number was only 7%.
Smaller departments have driven the largest increases in Taser use in recent years, with 79% of them using stun guns as of 2013, compared to 56% in 2007. While 90% of cities with populations of more than 250,000 use Tasers, some major cities, including Boston and Detroit, have not authorized their use.
By comparison, only 71% of police departments require officers to wear protective armor at all times, only 68% require in-car video cameras, and just 32% require body-worn cameras as of 2013.
In recent years, serious concerns have emerged about the widespread use and overuse of Taser guns by police forces throughout the United States. The stun guns are designed to incapacitate neuromuscular function by delivering a shock that uses Electro-Muscular Disruption tecnology.
Although Taser International, the manufacturer of the weapons, has maintained that the shock delivered by the Taser is not life threatening, a number of deaths have occurred following use of the stun guns.
In 2008, Amnesty International released a report, calling for police departments throughout the United States to stop using Taser guns or to strictly limit their use to life-threatening situations. The human rights group linked 334 deaths to the use of Taser guns between 2001 and August 2009, noting that 90% of Taser deaths examined involved people who were unarmed and did not appear to present a serious threat to the officers.
In October 2011, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) released a report that estimated 15% of Taser shootings examined were clearly inappropriate, routinely being used on subjects who were unarmed and posed no physical threat. In addition, more than a third of the cases examined by the NYCLU involved multiple or prolonged shocks, and in 27% of the incidents police officers shot the Taser in the victim’s chest, which some reports suggest could increase the risk of fatal heart injuries.