Not very long ago, the only recourse available to law enforcement officers whose lives were endangered by suspects would be to respond with deadly force. You come at a cop with a demonstrated intent to kill or cause serious injury and that cop would have no alternative but to fire a lethal bullet.
The electric stun gun, a particular variant of which is manufactured by Scottsdale-based Taser International, has given authorities more latitude in subduing a dangerous suspect while virtually removing the possibility of killing him. These weapons cause one struck with their tens of thousands of volts of electrical current to be rendered unable to stand, much less fight back.
As with any device that uses force against a human being, there is an element of risk to the life of someone struck with a stun gun. A small fraction of people stricken by Tasers have died.
Taser International officials have provided credible explanations for such highly infrequent deaths, saying they involved people who were under the influence of drugs and were stunned multiple times. But the alternative to using stun guns is the former option: guns that fire bullets. The death and serious injury rate from use of those weapons is hundreds of times greater.
The situation becomes more complicated when officers use stun guns when their lives are not in danger. The Tribune’s Ray Stern reported Sunday that some East Valley police departments allow stun guns to be used more often — even in situations in which detainees are merely uncooperative — while in others officers may only use them if they are being attacked.
Despite some media criticism, Taser continues to sell its products at a brisk pace to police departments in major cities and even the military. Clearly, law enforcement officials who are studying the options like what the Taser has to offer.
As with any use of force, there is some degree of risk. But in the overwhelming majority of instances in which it is used, the Taser allows officers to subdue subjects with minimal risk of serious harm to the subject or the officer.
Law-enforcement agencies owe it to themselves and the public they serve to continually review policies of when to use stun guns and employ them only when absolutely necessary. If that is done, then they likely will continue to be an important part of the arsenal needed to protect us from the ravages of crime.