USA: Tasers: New report reveals rising USA death toll

A new report from Amnesty International today (28 March) reveals a significant year-on-year increase in deaths related to electro-shock “Taser” weapons in the USA. In the UK, over three-quarters of police forces have recently deployed tasers to firearms officers and some parts of the police have already called for wider deployment to all officers.

Since June 2001, says the new report, 152 people have died in the USA after being shot with tasers, 61 in 2005 alone. Most who died were subjected to multiple or prolonged shocks. In 23 cases coroners have listed the use of the taser as a cause or a contributory factor in death and in three cases in 2005 the taser was listed as a primary cause of death.

Amnesty International UK said:

“Our research in the USA shows that Tasers can kill. Amnesty is worried that their increasing use in the UK is a slippery slope towards arming all police officers with Tasers. We want a public statement from the Home Office that these weapons will only be used by trained firearms officers, as an alternative to firearms.

“Arming all UK police officers with a potentially-lethal device that delivers a 50,000 volt electric shock, causing the subject to collapse in ‘intolerable pain’, would be a massive change to UK policing – from ‘policing by consent’ to ‘compliance through pain’.

“There should be no consideration of such a move without a full, public enquiry into the safety of Tasers and their potential impact on UK policing.”

Amnesty International believes that there may be further deaths in the USA where the taser cannot be ruled out as a possible factor. Recent studies have cited the need for more research into potential adverse effects from taser shocks on people who are agitated or under the influence of drugs, or who are subjected to multiple or prolonged shocks.

Studies conducted over the last year have not met Amnesty's criteria for an independent, impartial and comprehensive study. None of the studies has included an analysis of the deaths listed in Amnesty International's reports on taser use in the USA. The studies have been limited in scope and methodology and have relied mostly on data provided by one of the manufacturers of the weapons - Taser International - and police departments themselves.

Amnesty International said:

"Any study should be independent of any commercial or security interests and should be carried out by a reputable and independent party that has no connection to any manufacturer of these electro-shock devices.”

Amnesty International's continued research into the use of the weapons, including a review of taser-related deaths in the USA since the publication of a previous Amnesty report in November 2004, reveals that most who died after being shocked with tasers were unarmed men who did not appear to pose a threat of death or serious injury at the time that they were electro-shocked. The use of the taser by US police was often accompanied by chemical incapacitant sprays and restraints. Importantly, the organisation's research showed that most who died went into cardiac or respiratory arrest at the scene.

The new report also contains specific findings related to the way tasers are used by US police, raising concerns that the devices may be inherently open to abuse. Despite safety concerns, tasers continue to be used in the USA as a ‘routine force tool’ rather than a weapon of last resort. And there are continued reports of excessive use of tasers.

Amnesty International is particularly concerned that vulnerable groups such as Children's rights, the disabled, pregnant Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and people with mental illnesses are also being subjected to electric shocks from tasers in the USA. The organisation said it continues to receive reports of individuals being subjected to taser shocks while already handcuffed.

Amnesty International said:

"It is extremely disturbing that tasers are continuing to be used by US police in circumstances where the suspect does not pose a serious threat to police officers, the public or themselves. These weapons should never be considered a 'low' or 'intermediate' force option."

Background

Tasers are powerful electrical weapons used by over 7,000 of the 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the USA. They are designed to incapacitate by conducting 50,000 volts of electricity into an individual's body. The electrical pulses induce skeletal muscle spasms that immobilise and incapacitate the individual, causing them to fall to the ground.

View latest press releases