A five-part series from Reuters, as well as a PBS interview with one of the authors, has revealed that police-issued tasers have killed more than 2,000 Americans in the last two decades.
Peter Eisler, a reporter working with Reuters, said that the investigation had begun simply enough – he and his colleagues wanted to see how many deaths were caused by the devices annually. They also had hoped to estimate the cost of taser-related litigation, as well as its effects on the public’s finances.
Eisler and his colleagues were surprised to find out how many fatalities have been caused by the devices.
When asked by PBS Newshour Weekend Anchor Hari Sreenivasan why people are dying from tasers, Eisler said, “You can’t really assess their safety without sort of very broad, scientifically controlled studies, and it’s difficult to do these studies on the populations that are considered to be the most sensitive to these devices – people with bad hearts, people who are suffering through mental health crises.”
According to Eisler, preliminary research on tasers wasn’t particularly thorough – neither, for that matter, is regulation of the device, its sale, and standards for safety.
Tasers, as police weapons, are not regulated or tested by the FDA, and neither are they regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Rather, the use of tasers is based largely on early series of tests, which demonstrated their effectiveness as a non-lethal alternative to firearms.
However, most recent reviews show that tasers can be overly-effective in altering the cardiac rhythm – “capturing a heartbeat” – which can, under the right circumstances, lead to cardiac arrest and even death.
Eisler says that the company which manufacturers most law enforcement tasers – Taser – contests any claim that their devices can cause death.
In fact, Taser says their electric weapons have never been definitively tied to any death, with taser-related fatalities instead having exacerbating factors.
Through his research and reporting, Eisler and his colleagues dredged through over 1,000 reports of taser discharges which culminated in an individual’s eventual death.
Of those 1,000 reports, 750 had associated autopsies available for perusing. In at least 150 incidences, a coroner or medical examiner named the taser as being a cause of death or contributing to death.
Eisler does say that the newest generations of Tasers are significantly safer than their older counterparts. Moreover, law enforcement agencies across the United States have begun revising their policies for usage and discharge, to prevent tragedies and unintended deaths from occurring in the future.