A study released last week by the American Heart Association says that an electronic shock received from a Taser, specifically the Taser X26, can cause cardiac arrest and even death.
But local law enforcement agencies aren't buying it.
"There are cases where people have been injured or died," said Belpre Police Chief E.D. Clevenger. "Whether you can connect those to a Taser or not, I find that questionable."
KEVIN PIERSON The Marietta Times
Marietta Police officer Glen McClelland uses the Taser X26 at the station on Putnam Street Thursday morning. Marietta officers say they believe Tasers are a valuable tool, even though an American Heart Association study says they can be linked to cardiac arrest.
The Marietta Police Department, which carries the X26, has employed a Taser in seven cases so far this year, and haven't seen health issues as a result.
"We've used the Tasers several times since we first got them and we've had no ill effects," said Marietta Police Capt. Jeff Waite.
The study, performed by Dr. Douglas Zipes, of Indiana University's Krannert Institute of Cardiology, analyzed eight cases of Taser X26-induced loss of consciousness.
About the study
- Performed by Dr. Douglas P. Zipes with Indiana University's Krannert Institute of Cardiology.
- Studied eight cases in which a Taser, specifically the Taser X26, was used resulting in unconsciousness. Seven of the people died.
- Emergency response records, ECD (Electronic Control Device) data port interrogation, ECG strips, defibrillator information and depositions were all examined for each case.
- The conclusion was that ECD stimulation can cause cardiac electrical capture, thereby causing cardiac arrest.
Source: American Heart Association journal Circulation.
Along with the Marietta Police Department, the Washington County Sheriff's Office and Belpre Police Department also have the Taser X26.
Tasers are a handgun-shaped weapon that can shoot barbs from a cartridge into the clothing or skin of a suspect, delivering an initial shock of 50,000 volts followed by 100 microsecond pulses at about 1,200 volts.
Alternatively, a Taser's exposed electrodes can be pressed against the skin to induce the same effect as the barbs.
Of the eight cases studied, seven resulted in death. The cases involved in the study were included as part of litigation related to the administration of shocks from the Taser X26.
The American Heart Association study is the first peer-reviewed study that has linked the use of Tasers and cardiac arrest.
Zipes said in his study that the Taser "can cause cardiac electric capture and provoke cardiac arrest due to ventricular tachycardia/ventricular fibrillation."
Local police question the accuracy of the study, noting it examined only eight cases involving a Taser Electronic Control Device (or ECD). They also questioned the authenticity of the study, noting drug use and past medical history all could contribute to cardiac arrest.
"The vast majority of people that end up getting shot by a Taser are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or they would not be fighting with a police officer," Waite said.
Zipes said in the study that all eight subjects were previously clinically healthy males, who developed loss of consciousness during or immediately after receiving a shock from a Taser with one or both barbs in the anterior chest near or over the heart.
Local police do not specifically aim for the torso, as shots to the shoulder or extremities can also allow for an arrest. Police say they aim for any part of the body presented to the officer as a target, which does include the torso, and they do not plan to alter that strategy.
Amnesty International reported that between 2001 and 2008 there were 334 deaths that occurred after exposure to an ECD. Of those deaths, there have been a few dozen cases where medical examiners have ruled the Taser contributed in some form to the death.
Other contributing factors have included drug use and prior medical conditions.
In the past, officers have used batons to subdue suspects. Those can lead to broken bones for the suspect, and officers can also be struck in hand-to-hand combat.
"It certainly has prevented our officers from being injured, and also the suspect being injured," said Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks.
Area police are so confident in the Taser that many of them have undergone a zap from the weapon themselves.
Mincks said he has been hit by a Taser, and at the Marietta Police Department, it's standard policy to receive a zap from a Taser before carrying one.
"I let them shoot me with it, even with the probes," said Marietta Police Patrolman Glen McClelland, who has used a Taser on a suspect. "It's a pain compliance tool. It saves us from hurting somebody when we're trying to take them into custody."
Clevenger recalled a situation roughly five years ago when he and another officer were called to respond to a man intending to commit suicide.
By deploying the Taser, the officers were able to subdue him without harm.
"It saved his life," Clevenger said. "Yes, he was tased, and I'm sure it's extremely unpleasant to be tased, but at the same time the choice was that or let him shoot himself or possibly one of us."
Like city and county police, the Marietta College Campus Police officers also carry tasers, but they have never had to use them, said Tom Perry, executive director of college relations at Marietta College.
Even though they carry Tasers, local law enforcement said it's not the first option when it comes to resolving conflict.
"We all know when to use it, when not to use it," McClelland said.
Law enforcement officers undergo eight hours of training before using a Taser, and are careful of the situations they use them, Mincks explained.
For a sheriff's deputy to deploy a Taser, the suspect has to have resisted verbal efforts at compliance and be exhibiting a combative attitude that threatens the safety of the officer or the public.
"If they take an aggressive move towards you, then we tase them," Mincks explained.
Taser International Inc., the company that manufactures the weapon, issued a statement saying the study only examined a handful of cases and that no one should leap to broader conclusions based on the limited sample.
"There have been 3 million uses of Taser devices worldwide, with this case series reporting eight of concern," said Steve Tuttle, spokesman for Taser International. "This article does not support a cause-effect association and fails to accurately evaluate the risks versus the benefits of the thousands of lives saved by police with Taser devices."
Despite the study, none of the local law enforcement agencies said they have intentions to remove them from service.
"It's way more dangerous to drive a car than to get hit by a Taser," Clevenger said.
The Associated Press contributed.