Human Rights Group Wants Restrictions on Tasers

The death toll from the use of tasers by police officers in the United States has reached 500, prompting Amnesty International to call on the government to put strict regulations to avoid such tragedies in the future.

Two days after the death of a Georgia man who was shocked with a police Taser — raising the known death toll from tasers to 500 in the United States — Amnesty International today repeated its call for tighter limits on police use of the weapons.

According to data collected by Amnesty International, at least 500 people in the United States have died since 2001 after being shocked with Tasers either during their arrest or while in jail. Amnesty International recorded the largest number of deaths following the use of Tasers in California (92), followed by Florida (65), and Texas (37). The Oklahoma City Police Department led all law enforcement agencies in deaths (7) following by Las Vegas Metropolitan Police, Harris County Sheriff’s (Tx), Phoenix, Az and San Jose, Ca., all with six deaths…

“Of the hundreds who have died following police use of Tasers in the United States, dozens and possibly scores of deaths can be traced to unnecessary force being used,” said Susan Lee, Americas program director at Amnesty International. “This is unacceptable, and stricter guidelines for their use are now imperative.”

Strict national guidelines on police use of Tasers and similar stun weapons – also known as Conducted Energy Devices (CEDs) – would effectively replace thousands of individual policies now followed by state and local agencies.

Police forces across the United States currently permit a wide use of the weapons, often in situations that do not warrant such a high level of force.

Law enforcement agencies defend the use of Tasers, saying they save lives and can be used to subdue dangerous or uncooperative suspects. But Amnesty International believes the weapons should only be used as an alternative in situations where police would otherwise consider using firearms.

Unfortunately, that is far too sane and rational to get serious consideration in this country.

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  • meimcounting

    We were initially told that these weapons would be used only in place of lethal force, not as means of compliance. We are all, naturally, shocked by this.

  • schism

    Unfortunately, that is far too sane and rational to get serious consideration in this country.

    Also, politicians get way too much mileage out of shrieking “tough on crime” to bother.

  • We definitely need to enforce disciplined use of tasers. Heck, we need to teach a lot of police officers the meaning of discipline, given how quickly they pull out the tasers and pepper spray when they don’t instantly get their way.

  • llewelly

    Tasers are not a negotiating tool. That’s all our police forces really need to be taught.

  • Michael Heath

    This problem is a mere symptom of our not demanding a professionally run law enforcement system but instead one where right wing authoritarians flourish.

  • Pieter B, FCD

    It’s not the death toll that bothers me, it’s the repeatedly videotaped evidence that the Taser is used a device for administering summary punishment, often for the crime of Contempt of Cop.

    In more than 350 cases, no crime was committed. No person was charged or the case was dropped by prosecutors or dismissed by judges and juries, according to the Houston Chronicle’s analysis of the first 900 police Taser incidents, which occurred between December 2004 and August 2006.

  • Zugswang

    Have any politicians ever volunteered to be hit with a taser before? I’m not asking snarkily, I’m actually curious if anyone has done so in order to prove a point, like when Christopher Hitchens and Eric Muller agreed to be waterboarded.

  • howdini

    It’s a slippery slope to restrictions on anti-tank guns.

  • DaveL

    Law enforcement agencies defend the use of Tasers, saying they save lives and can be used to subdue dangerous or uncooperative suspects.

    Well, there’s your problem right there. I think we need to set a higher bar than simply “uncooperative”. A taser is not a cattle prod and people are not cattle.

  • nemothederv

    Do you remember the story about the Oakland man who was shot point blank in the back while at a bart station? The officer responsible claimed that he meant to reach for his taser.


    If or not you believe the officer or not, it does call into question about whether or not it’s a good time to tazer a person when he’s face down on the ground with his hands on his head.

    If you were to ask me, I would call that already subdued.

    Tazers are not the problem in cases like this. Police are.

  • It’s not just a problem in the US. Here in Canada we have seen our share of inappropriate taser use. Many officers are shot with tasers during training and the effects are minimal in a heathly physically fit subject. It is often those with elevated heartrates due to stress, drugs, or disease who suffer the most. Unfortunately, those are often the one on the receiving end.

  • left0ver1under

    Even if tasers weren’t lethal, police still shouldn’t have them.

    The fictional “lack of lethality” would encourage them to use it as a means of torture because there are no consequences.

    If you died in police custody today, your family would have as much chance of legal redress as did Steve Biko’s family under Apartheid in South Africa.

  • This blog is old so im not expecting any reaction to recent comments…

    But at the time of writing I find myself torn on the subject, on the one hand the arguments that the police would use this for evil means i find to be a very broad and negative view (granted the horrible images portrayed of the police does stick with us much longer than the good the police actually do).

    looking at the alternative of this on the side of the police you’d find we are not that well versed in options when it comes to non-lethal even pepper spray is a restricted item among the force and is punishable with a assault charge.

    After speaking to Tazer international it’s very difficult to obtain a proper version of the product for service use…

    So to avoid a tangent and a trip down the rabbit hole I must reply by saying that to eliminate incompetence out of any field involving humans is damn near impossible..thus trying to limit the possible “bad” by totally taking away a additional “tool” is unwise.

  • Chris from Europe

    The police outside of the U.S. seem to be able to avoid both guns and so-called non-lethal weapons. Why wouldn’t officers in the U.S. be able to behave similar?

    If police officers need to have a taser, it should be treated as a lethal weapon, careless use should be punished hard.