Scientists: Tasers work, but we don't know how
Humans make the best guinea pigs, after all
Despite the Taser being one of the most heavily researched less-lethal weapons in the world, its operational mechanism remains a mystery, a conference on non-lethal weapons was told.
Explanations for the electro stun weapon's apparent ability to stiffen the whole of the human body without (usually) causing any physiological damage remain unclear, inconsistent and contradictory, and it might be that psychological factors play a more important role in its effect than previously thought.
These were the conclusions of researchers at the Bundeswehr Medical Centre, who presented their research at the 5th Symposium on Non Lethal Weapons in Ettlingen, Germany earlier this month.
In a special forum on Tasers, scientists from the University of Military Forces in Germany reported that published research into the Taser’s effect on heart tissue was also inconsistent. The differences between the studies were tentatively attributed to different assumptions contained within the various software programmes used to measure Tasers' impact.
Dr Jeffrey Ho, a consultant for Taser who works at the department of emergency medicine, Hennepin County medical centre and the Meeker County Sheriff's Office, said that he had conducted experiments on human volunteers and could not find any interference with the cardiac activity of those exposed.
Earlier independent research had come to opposite conclusions, but Dr Ho pointed out that this had been conducted on swine, which are anatomically very different to humans.
Neil Corney of the OMEGA Research Foundation, a Manchester-based peace group, expressed concern that these discussions were only taking place after the Taser’s widespread deployment. He pointed out that the constraints imposed on earlier research with humans by biomedical research ethics meant that the public were in practice being used as guinea pigs.
The Home Office Scientific Development Branch, which will publish its latest research on police Taser use in June, revealed that no significant change in the number of people killed by the police has taken place as a result of the availability of this less lethal option. This was because the number of such casualties was in any case very small; however, there had been a marked decrease in the number of injuries inflicted on police officers by civilians since its introduction.
In the Symposium’s keynote speech, former US army colonel and long time advocate of non-lethal weapons, John Alexander issued a dire warning against the ‘flawed logic’ of opponents to less lethal weapons.
He said that if we were to focus on the repressive capabilities of technology, then recent revelations about Guantanamo interrogations would require a prohibition on water exports. Alexander's view is that people, not technology, are to blame when things go wrong. ®
"Tasers are lower on the scale than CS Gas or a baton, both of which UK police forces carry and use on a daily basis.".
I was in the police, in UK. This is arrant nonsense, even today. CS smoke (and rubber bullets and water cannon and chemical mace) certainly are not used frequently and by most forces not at all. A truncheon, in whatever form, is treated as a serious instrument and, at least in my time, required a written report to explain its use. I am sure that the vast majority of you have never seen or experienced such things (I have).
I have got serious reservations about how the British police have developed, from the apparent siege mentatlity of many constables of all ranks to the downright thuggish appearance of some, with the apparent loss of the ability to talk to people as a first resort. But this kind of scaremongering and application of American television standards to UK police forces is ignorant and self-fulfilling.
I am against Tasers, generally armed police and groups described as "anti-terrorist" police: these lead to a them-and-us attitude and a reluctance to police society as part of society rather than as some controlling force. But, police constables (all police are "constables") are drawn from the general population, without even an officer-entry option. All parties should remember that. A society, they say, gets the police it deserves.
I also believe that the safety of the general public (including the awkward, ill etc.) is paramount and that, for that reason, the police must accept and expect that their job involves risk, perhaps sacrifice and certainly a risk of injury, in dealing with all sections of the public.
Minimising this risk must rely on good training, social skills and organisation; not on using oppressive laws or technology to control, isolate or incapacitate. .
In this respect, the IT angle is clear: misused IT is a terrible means of control and furthers extreme methods. As IT workers, we are all responsible for its development, spread and use, whether to run a DB or programme a chip in a taser.
Let Try Some Facts
Arguing about semantics aside, did you know...
1) That Taser does NOT deliver 50,000 volts to the subject. That is the "open circuit" voltage and the instant that the circuit is closed across the subject, the "closed circuit" voltage is only about 1,300 volts (exaggerated by a factor of 4, but fifty-thousand.certainly sound more scary. In fact, the high "open circuit" voltage is used only to insure that the current jumps any gap between the dart-tips and the conductive subject but, again, the voltage "across the subject" is only about 1,300 V.
2) In any case, voltage has nothing to do with the "effect". It is the current delivered that is effective. It is delivered in small amounts and in extremely short pulses many times per second. You frequently experience 10s of thousands of volts in static shocks in a dry room that carry very low current. Conversely, household-outlet shock of only 100 or 200 volts, but gobs of current will, given good enough grounding, do you in. Get it?
3) The U.S. Government Accounting Office (now Accountability) recorded over 85,000 uses of Tasers during arrests up to 2005 and, since then, many more have been deployed and used with the number of such uses being over 600,000 in arrests to date. No one disputes this number but, have you ever seen it reported in the media? Further, there have been about the same number of "training" or "demonstration" shocks on relatively healthy people with some injuries from falls, but no cases of heart fibrillation, much less deaths. Have you ever seen that reported in the media?
4) On the other hand, the count of "Taser-related-deaths" during arrests since 2001 (8 years) is claimed to be about 400, but that number includes every case that can be found in which a Taser was used and a death occurred - even days later. The media almost always reports that number. What the media stories don't report are the number of those cases that are eventually determined, clearly, to have been caused by drugs, seriously compromised health by drugs, or other causes etc. Like an odometer, the number only increments and is never corrected when other obvious causes are found on autopsy. The claims that the Taser company has a world-wide conspiracy to hoodwink the entire scientific and legal establishments are, simply, bizarre. As important, the media never reports the number of deaths that occur during arrests where Tasers are not involved - critical for any realistic perspective on the lethality or non-lethality of the device as well as the integrity of the reporter and news source.
Reflect on 3 and 4. You don't need to be a statistician to tell that something is rotten in medialand - just writing out the numbers and doing some elementary math should give anyone pause. You don't need to be a media analyst to see that there is a huge gap between what is really happening and what is being reported. While, occasionally, a story appears in which a Taser has been successfully used to diffuse an otherwise deadly situation, these rarely go beyond local media, whereas every so-called "Taser-related-death" - declared, regardless of circumstances - echos hundreds of times around the world and thousands of times as an increment to the oft quoted death count. With Tasers being used hundreds of times every day, the question is whether the media is serving the public or promoting a dangerous preconception, with sensational anecdotes, that misinforms, confuses the debate, and harms the public.
While there is no excuse for poorly trained or poorly supervised police, Tasers are not the lethal or semi-lethal devices (or whatever) that they are being made out to be in the media - by any reasonable standard. Once that is understood and the self-defeating hysteria subsides, people can turn their efforts to what real problems may exist between police and public and solve them.
>"And before anyone says anything - Obviously I know you can't check first, it is a philosophical question."
>I believe it's actually a *rhetorical* question: one asked to make a point but without expecting, or really wanting, an actual answer.
I wrote philosophical and I meant philosophical.
"the rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge, or conduct."
You would be better off reading what people write in their comments rather than putting words in their mouths and then arguing against yourself.
If I had meant rhetorical I would have said so.