Inappropriate Taser Use Endangers Women
May 30, 2012
Law enforcement's use of electro-muscular disruption technology (EMDT), most commonly referred to as Tasers, has increased since the early 2000s. An estimated 15,000-plus law enforcement agencies now utilize them, and reports indicate that at least 500 people in the U.S. have died after being shocked.
Experts and advocates are concerned that these deaths result from overuse by law enforcement and a lack of clear regulations regarding their use, particularly on women who are known to be pregnant, the elderly and persons with disabilities.
Just this week, the Supreme Court declined to re-open a case in which the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found that three Seattle police officers used excessive force when they Tasered a woman who had informed them that she was seven-months pregnant.
According to a survey by the National Institute of Justice, only 31 percent of agencies clearly forbid the use of Tasers on pregnant women, and only 10 percent had a regulation regarding Taser use on the elderly.
Tasers are designed to produce and deliver 50,000 volts of electricity into the body, causing involuntary muscle contractions and loss of body control. The initial shock does not usually cause injury or death. However, injury or death may occur under certain circumstances, including if a Taser is used on women who are pregnant, the elderly or persons with disabilities.
Because many states do not have Taser laws on the books, it is up to individual departments to come up with their own policies. Many departments rely on manufacturer-produced materials, which exaggerate overall safety of their product. In April 2005, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (ICAP) called on agencies to reevaluate their policies. It is, therefore, essential for state legislatures to adopt legislation mandating minimum standards and for the ICAP to create training materials that do not downplay the dangers of inappropriate Taser use.
While the use of Tasers does reduce injury rates to suspects and officers alike, it is important to remember that Tasers should only be used in life-threatening situations as an alternative to gun force. It should not replace non-life threatening tactics such as control and force techniques and crisis intervention skills.
NOW passed an anti-Taser resolution in 2011, which states: "Taser use by law enforcement personnel is being widely used in an abusive manner, especially against women who are known to be pregnant, children, the elderly, and person with disabilities. . . . [This practice] can be dehumanizing, offensive, and oppressive . . . [furthermore, it] may cause bodily injury and undue harm." NOW resolved to recommend to the IACP and other law enforcement agencies and organizations that they create and train law enforcement on crisis intervention in order to eliminate inappropriate use of Tasers.
NOW also urges state legislatures to mandate that detention centers, correctional facilities and law enforcement officials create minimum standards for the use of Tasers, especially their use on women who are known to be pregnant, the elderly, and persons with disabilities.
Stand with NOW in advocating for law enforcement agencies to regulate their use of Tasers. Educate yourself and those in your community about Taser laws in your state.
Field Intern Lauren Eiten contributed to this story.
International Associations of Chiefs of Police: Electro-Muscular Disruption Technology: A Nine-Step Strategy for Effective Deployment
U.S. Department of Justice: Police Use of Force, Tasers and Other Less-Lethal Weapons (PDF) (May 2011)
ACLU of Northern California: Stun Gun Fallacy: How the Lack of Taser Regulation Endangers Lives (PDF) (Sept 2005)
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