Law Enforcement Group Defends TASERs, Blasts ACLU

By Jeff Johnson | July 7, 2008 | 8:22 PM EDT

(Correction: Fixes full name associated with TASER acronym)

( - Law enforcement supporters defended the electronic immobilization device known as the "TASER" Thursday, dismissing a claim that it was responsible for nearly 150 deaths since 1999. The Law Enforcement Alliance of America called a report by the American Civil Liberties Union "junk science (that) puts cops' lives at risk."

The pistol-like TASER -- an acronym standing for Thomas A. Swift's Electric Rifle -- fires two metallic probes attached to ultra-thin metal wires. After the probes strike their target, the person firing the pistol can depress the trigger to deliver a low-amperage, 50,000 volt shock.

The patented Electro-Muscular Disruption Technology (EMDT) causes the recipient of that shock to momentarily lose voluntary muscle control, rendering a suspect incapable of resisting arrest or continuing an assault. One version of the device incorporates a laser sighting system that can also be used for psychological intimidation. More than 1,700 U.S. law enforcement agencies issue some version of the TASER to all of their uniformed officers.

The Northern California affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) published a report in September, claiming that as the number of TASERs in the hands of police has increased, "the number of deaths associated with their use has also skyrocketed.

"Since 1999, there have been 148 deaths in the United States and Canada following the use of a Taser (sic), more than half of which occurred in the last year alone." The report continues for 25 pages, using phrases such as "Given the increasing number of deaths associated with Taser (sic) use..." and "In light of those concerns and the rising death toll associated with Taser (sic) use..."

But the Law Enforcement Alliance of America (LEAA) - a coalition of current and former law enforcement officers, crime victims and others - defended police use of the device Thursday, arguing that the "anti-cop agenda of the ACLU was clearly on display
in their so-called TASER 'study.'

"The ACLU's sensationalist anti-cop attack on the TASER would not get much attention if they admitted that they could cite only four coroner reports over five years that list police use of TASER as 'a cause of death,'" LEAA charged. "So they settle instead for the intellectually-challenged logic that suggests if a TASER device is used and the (often) drug-deranged and/or violent suspect later dies, it must be the police officer's use of a TASER that caused the death, as opposed to the suspect's use of lethal amounts of illegal drugs, a preexisting medical condition or physiological stress resulting from violent resistance."

A rebuttal report by the LEAA, released Thursday, noted that the ACLU relied on published reports from the Arizona Republic as "evidence" in 144 of the 148 cases of allegedly TASER-related deaths it claimed.

"Yet the ACLU fails to mention that the very same newspaper admits that only four coroner reports have listed the police use of TASER technology as a 'cause of death,'" the LEAA countered, "ten as a 'contributing factor' and four where the TASER's role 'could not be ruled out.'"

The TASER was not considered a factor by medical examiners in the other 130 cases studied.

TASER International claims on its website that the device has been documented by law enforcement to have saved a minimum of 900 lives. A "save" is recorded when law enforcement uses the TASER to subdue a suspect who would otherwise have been shot with a firearm, or when a hostage, crime victim or suicidal person's life is believed to have been saved by the use of the device. The publicly-traded company believes that use of the device is under-reported by a factor of ten and, therefore, claims 9,000 saves.

In a prepared statement, Jim Fotis, executive director of LEAA, called the ACLU report a "hit piece on cops and TASERs.

"[It] is nothing more than a recycled version of their anti-cop rhetoric about pepper spray," Fotis charged. "Their wild claims went unchallenged ten years ago, but our report will set the record straight."

The ACLU report made numerous recommendations for policy changes at law enforcement agencies that employ the TASER, including limiting the kinds of suspects on which the device can be used and limiting the display of the device to non-compliant suspects for intimidation purposes.

Fotis said LEAA "will be warning the law enforcement community about the dangers associated with the recommendations of the ACLU 'study'.

"The politicization of law enforcement tactics, policy, and procedures would undoubtedly result in ill-conceived policies that place officers' lives at risk," he concluded.

Stella Richardson, spokesperson for the ACLU of Northern California, said that the author of the group's report would have to review the LEAA rebuttal before her group could comment. Richardson did not respond to the Cybercast News Service request for a response prior to the deadline for publication of this article.

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