The point of arming police with Tasers is so officers can subdue uncooperative suspects in a safe, efficient fashion. However, the electroshock weapon has proven more dangerous than expected. Since 2005, 14 people in Connecticut have died after being shot with a stun-gun — including three in Meriden. These deaths are unnecessary, unacceptable, and warrant further investigation into potential risks.
A number of people who perished were already weakened from a lengthy history of drug abuse. A sudden electric shock was more than their unhealthy bodies could handle. This particular scenario is a significant cause of stun-gun deaths, though not necessarily the only lethal factor. What about individuals whose bodies are fragile because of reasons other than drug abuse — such as disease or aging?
It is imperative that officials better understand the possible dangers, to prevent additional loss of life. Consequently, Connecticut politicians passed a data-seeking law during the most recent session of General Assembly. The first of its kind nationwide, this legislation requires police departments to record and report every instance of an officer discharging a stun gun. Cumbersome as it may seem, by compiling and examining statistics, law-enforcement and state officials can identify trends and patterns to help determine safer guidelines for usage.
The legislation also includes two important regulations that protect suspects’ rights. Stun guns may not be used “in a punitive or coercive manner.” With this rule unambiguously spelled out, officers will be less likely to misuse Tasers as a brutal instrument of interrogation, or as means of retaliation against individuals in custody. (In 2011, a handcuffed man died after being shocked by Waterbury police.)
The other protective regulation instructs officers to refrain from firing Tasers when a suspect can be “reasonably dealt with in any other less intrusive fashion.” Determining this distinction may be difficult in the heat of making an arrest, especially when someone becomes physical or uncooperative. Nevertheless, the law rightly implies that police should view stun guns as a last resort. Meriden has already begun to alter policy in this manner. No longer will city officers administer an electroshock to an excited, delirious person. Rather, they will employ a newly learned “swarm” technique, gaining control of arms and legs before securing the individual to a backboard, as quickly as possible. This is preferable to risking the possibility that a suspect may suffer a fatal reaction after being shocked.
If employed appropriately, stun guns are still worth keeping in the police arsenal. Tasers can subdue a violent, unruly suspect in a manner that should be safer for everyone involved. But based on a recent string of deaths, electroshocks can be deadly in certain circumstances — counterintuitive to their purpose. Data collected by Connecticut politicians should help advance and establish safer procedures, so that if police are forced to fire a stun gun, they can do so free of the chance of inadvertently causing an otherwise avoidable death.