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Police Departments’ Use of Tasers Proves Lethal

by Countable | 8.23.17

What’s the story?

One of the preferred methods, considered non-lethal, for subduing suspects in many police departments is the use of tasers, which administer a debilitating electric shock to the body. Reuters has done an extensive investigation of deaths associated with the use of tasers, and found both disturbing stories of taser-related fatalities and evidence of police departments untrained and unprepared for dealing with community members in crisis, especially those suffering mental health problems.

Why does it matter?

Using transcripts from hundreds of interviews, court records and autopsy reports, Reuters documented 1,005 incidents in the United States in which people died after police stunned them with Tasers, nearly all since the early 2000s. In at least 153 of those cases coroners or medical examiners cited the use of the taser as the cause or a contributing factor to the death.

The company that supplies police tasers, Taser International, Inc., maintains that the Reuters report needs to be placed in a wider context. Tasers are used in approximately 90 percent of U.S. police departments and the company estimates they’ve been deployed in the field at least 3,000,000 times.

Reuters also noted that many of the deaths from tasers involved individuals having some sort of mental health or drug-related crisis:

"A quarter of the people who died... were suffering from a mental health breakdown or neurological disorder. In nine of every 10 incidents, the deceased was unarmed. More than 100 of the fatal encounters began with a 911 call for help during a medical emergency.”

This echoes an investigative report published by the Washington Post in 2015 that looked at shooting deaths at the hands of police, but found similar statistics. Of the 462 people shot to death by police in the first six months of 2015, nearly 25 percent were citizens in the throes of a mental health crisis.

In an October 2016 report USA Today noted that more than 3,000 of the nation’s roughly 18,000 police departments have some or all of their officers go through Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training. The training is supposed to involve 40 hours of training that includes teaching officers verbal de-escalation skills, scenario-based training and having officers spend time interacting with individuals who have gone through a mental health crisis. The Police Executive Research Forum reports, however, that the average number of hours of CIT training across the country is 8 hours, compared to 58 hours of firearms training.

Reuters also reviewed the 231-slide "User Course" presentation provided to police departments by Taser International, Inc. and only found one slide, #66, that mentioned any guidelines on use of tasers with mentally ill individuals. The focus was on liability issues as opposed to safety when approaching individuals who exhibit “extreme agitation” and “bizarre behavior.”

Police are being asked to stand at the front line in communities that are lacking adequate mental health and medical resources despite not undergoing proper training. Hundreds of people in need of mental health services or medical intervention are dying at the hands of police who are inadequately trained to help them.

Tasers -- despite being less lethal than guns -- are still resulting in needless deaths.

What do you think?

Should tasers still be used by police departments in lieu of more lethal force options? What other types of training do police officers need? Should all police departments mandate the complete 40 hours of CIT training to reduce the likelihood of harm to mentally ill individuals? What help should the federal government be providing to local communities to adequately address their medical and mental health needs to reduce burdens on local police departments? What can you do to help your community address these issues?

Tell us in the comments and then use the Take Action button to tell your reps what you think!

— Asha Sanaker

(Photo Credit: Royal Airforce Mendenhall)

Countable

Written by Countable

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(39)
  • Andy1
    08/23/2017
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    The police need more deescalation, implicit bias, and mental health crisis training. Too many are run like a branch of the military. Too many lives have already been lost and trust is eroding

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  • Linda
    08/23/2017
    ···

    Training is the solution to prevent the escalation of incidents. Professional behavior Should be standard procedure in every case. I commend them for their service but also hold them accountable for the manner in which they perform their jobs. Proper training, instruction, & exemplary leadership are needed.

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  • Sheryl
    08/23/2017
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    I was the supervisor of a group home for 10 mentally ill clients. Mentally ill people are not beyond manipulating and throwing temper tantrums. Despite being on several anti-psychotics one of my clients became aggressive and menacing. He grabbed a knife from the kitchen and threatened all of us. I immediately called 911. The police made every attempt to reason with the client, without success. He then lunged at them with the knife and was immediately pepper-sprayed in the face. That did NOT stop him. They then had to taser him. That did NOT stop him. They had to taser him again. And FINALLY they were able to cuff him and take him to jail. I have worked with the mentally ill in many places, including jails, prisons and the emergency room. And sometimes the use of force is the right thing to do for the safety of all. I can give countless instances where using cell-rushing techniques, a show of force, the use of pepper spray and tasers was absolutely necessary. And sometimes it required brute force, strong tranquilizers and restraints to bring the situation under control. This may not be pleasant, kind, PC or humane in the mind of the inexperienced, but it is a reality for those of us who work in the trenches everyday.

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  • Allegra
    08/23/2017
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    This is of no surprise. I am glad that some investigation was done but what will law enforcement DO with this information. It is not about being anti-police, it is about anti-abuse of power. It is about education and a sense of humanity.

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  • JayFeat
    08/23/2017
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    How about we increase mental health funding as well as force police officers to undergo more training to a) better deal with individuals suffering from mental health issues and b) understand when and how to properly use a taser. It's almost like it makes too much sense.

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  • Gail
    08/24/2017
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    Extensive training should be provided in the use of any weapon that can kill! I agree with others here who call for increased police training with regard to the various populations they may encounter including the mentally ill. The other side of the coin is that we need many more services for people who are mentally or emotionally ill than we currently have. Mentally people repeatedly end up in jail where they do not get the help they need. It is a sad state of affairs about which our government has done little. Always there is more and more money allocated to preparing for war, while less and less goes to human services. This imbalance in allocation of tax dollars led us here and until our priorities truly change and we put the health and wellbeing of American citizens above all else, the imbalance will continue to result in a very mediocre America.

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  • Elizabeth
    08/23/2017
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    40 hours of CIT training should absolutely be mandatory. An 8 hour average means far too many police officers must be getting less than 8 hours of training on crisis intervention. Our police also need training on implicit bias.

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  • Deirdre
    08/23/2017
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    I think that police need to know how to defuse situations instead of resorting to violence.

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  • Chris
    08/24/2017
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    We need more funds allocated for police training. The amount currently allotted is abysmal. Training for de-escalation, substance use disorders and mental health disorders are critical. We need to drastically improve our mental health and addiction services in this country. Both leave a lot to be desired.

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  • Karan
    08/23/2017
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    Police, we are trusting you to keep us safe and so do whatever it takes to protect us. Thank you for all you do

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  • Jeffrey
    08/24/2017
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    By all means, provide police with all appropriate training for law enforcement. This is a non issue. If tasers can be improved great, but the way I read this study, 3,000,000 suspects who would have been shot, were instead tasered. Of those, 153 died as a result. That is 2,999,847 people that at lived to stand trial for their crimes... Perhaps that is why prisons are overcrowded?

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  • Dawn
    08/24/2017
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    Re: Use of tasers Please fund better training for police!

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  • Kodiwodi
    08/23/2017
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    I'm so tired of hearing if you just do what the officers tell you you won't get shot or tasered or hurt or whatever. It's bullshit. An officer needs to be trained in absolute deescalation of all situations. When mental illness is involved someone who is bipolar or schizophrenic or having a break with reality may not understand what is being said to him/her. A different approach is necessary. A deaf person obviously can't understand what is being said to them. A child may or may not understand the seriousness of the situation. An autistic person may not be able to comply. This country's shoot first and claim you feared for your life later policy has to change. Why is it only American cops are scared for their lives? Other countries do this without weapons. It's time to demilitarize our police and retrain them.

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  • KansasTamale
    08/23/2017
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    Seems like the training police got after 9/11 had created an era of police abuse. The training as if they are military is the problem. Returning to REAL POLICE TRAINING in necessary. The vetting of people being accepted into the police academy needs to be strengthened. Too many White Supremacists TYPE people are getting in causing the shootings of nonwhite offenders who have done nothing wrong. Psychological testing needs to be part of the vetting process also.

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  • Christopher
    08/24/2017
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    Blah blah blah, you know I have NEVER seen a deadly encounter with police when you actually show respect to the officer. Maybe we should just have them yell very loudly in the opposite direction of the perpetrator 🤔 yeah sorry that won’t work either... parents bring your kids up to respect the law, your country and you will see markedly less incidents 🤔. Personally I think the police should be using guns Not Toy weapons. The Estill Police Officer Quincy Smith, shot 3 times while telling to suspect to stop (taser clearly visible in his hand) nails that for me. http://abc7chicago.com/video-sc-police-officer-shot-repeatedly-survives/2294636/

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  • Carla
    08/23/2017
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    The majority of people with mental illness are not violent. However, a police officer is just as dead if shot or stabbed by a mentally ill person as by someone without a mental illness. What has happened is treatment, (including medication) is very, very difficult to compel legally. So, you may have a paranoid and psychotic person that is a danger to others. The person may have tried to self medicate with illegal drugs. It all starts with treatment, compassionate care, and consistent psychiatric care. Next, there should be additional training for police officers. However, police officers should not be required to sacrifice their lives because the person attempting to harm/murder them is mentally ill.

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  • Jim2423
    08/23/2017
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    We need to restore mental health hospitals with federal funds. Stop putting all the blame on our police forces. Our police officers are not physiologists, and in no should they be. We have shut down just about every state and county home for physiology issues. Tasers are far better than a 9mm. But our government knows the problem and we're not addressing it.

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  • A
    08/23/2017
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    I don't want the job of police officer to erode into mental health technician. We must have crisis counselors first. There should be a separate emergency service for psychological issues. They could also be dispatched by the 911 operator. Police officers are not trained crisis clinicians and we should not blame them for their lack of a degree in that area. Outside of that issue there is the problem of the use of tasers in general. There should be an oversight committee for any scenario where use of force is necessary. It should include at least 2 rotating members of the community to help the group maintain an awareness of what things look like from a layman's prospective.These reviews should be used to fine tune the the system as much as possible. I have no doubt that tasers are a necessary evil.

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  • Siamopazzi
    08/26/2017
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    The police should not be taxing anyone ! Police state United Stasi ! Stop the nonsense ! They are dangerous .

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  • Judy
    08/23/2017
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    The problem isn't with the police person themselves always, but rather with the system they are being taught which is fear! They are taught to fear everything and the fact that they have a gun or taser they can shoot from 25 feet away when someone has a knife or a cell phone in their hand and they can't take the time to look! I'm sorry but the cops in this country have gone military and they are out of freaking control. Police need a year of training, NO GUNS until they graduate with proper shooting credentials and empathy or compassion course.

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