Taser shots to chest pose no extra risk, study finds
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.—Taser shots to the chest are no more dangerous than those delivered to any other body location, according to a new study authored by Dr. William Bozeman, associate professor of emergency medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
The research is important, Bozeman said, because there are concerns that the use of a Taser to the front of the chest might be unsafe and should be avoided by law enforcement officers. "This is important both operationally and in the context of the manufacturer's revised targeting guidelines," Bozeman told Security Director News. "Officers and police chiefs can feel reassured that shots across the chest are relatively common in real world deployments and that they do not appear to present a significant risk from a medical perspective."
Bozeman's study, published this month in the Journal of Emergency Medicine, reviewed 1,201 consecutive cases of real-life Taser uses at law enforcement agencies participating in the Less Lethal Weapon Incident Monitoring System, which is funded by the National Institute of Justice. The majority of the suspects in the reviewed cases were male (94 percent) and the mean age was 32.
Of the 1,201 cases reviewed, 178, or 22 percent, involved the device’s probes landing on the suspect’s chest and delivering an electrical charge that may have traveled across the heart area. None of the suspects with Taser shots to the chest were found to have heart-related complications, and they did not have a higher injury rate than suspects with Taser shots elsewhere on the body, according to the study.
There were two deaths in the study cohort, but in both cases the medical examiner determined the deaths were not related to the use of a Taser, Bozeman told SDN. Last August, SDN reported on the death of Everette Howard, a recent high school graduate who was enrolled at a summer college prepatory program at the University of Cincinnati, after he was shot with a Taser by university police officers.
"Of course, our new report doesn't prove that a complication can't ever happen," Bozeman said. "It does show, though, that in a carefully tracked large series of Taser uses, significant injuries or complications are rare overall, and they do not appear to be more common in cases when the probes produce a transcardiac discharge."
Bozeman has been conducting research into the use of Tasers by law enforcement personnel since 2004. In 2007 and 2009 he released results from the first large, independent study of injuries associated with Tasers, finding that they are relatively safe and pose minimal risk of injury, according to a news release from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. In that study, findings showed that 99.7 percent of those subjected to a Taser had no injuries or only mild ones, such as scrapes and bruises.
In a related study also released in 2009, Bozeman evaluated the immediate cardiac and cardiovascular effects on a group of volunteer police officers, finding that Taser exposure overall was safe and well tolerated. No adverse cardiac affects or rhythm changes were seen.
“This study adds to the accumulated medical evidence that Tasers are safe and effective and that their risks overall are extremely low,” Bozeman said. “Although not risk free, Tasers have been associated with lower rates of injuries to suspects and officers than other traditional intermediate force options such as physical force, pepper spray, and handheld impact weapons.”
Bozeman's research was funded by the National Institute of Justice.