Police

Taser Responds to New Times Investigation, Denies Blame for Abuse

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Here is Taser's response to our request for comment. New Times questions are in bold.

How many American law enforcement agencies currently use Tasers?

17,000+

Do any federal law enforcement agencies use Tasers?

Nearly all federal law enforcement agencies deploy TASER brand devices (one exception is the FBI).

How many times were Tasers used last year by American law enforcement agencies? Or, on average, how many times are they used per day by these agencies?

TASER devices are use approximately 904 times per day.

Field Use/Suspect Applications: 2,305,000 ± 2% (as of December 24, 2014)

Training/Voluntary Applications: 1,351,891 ± 7% (as of Dec 31, 2012)

Total: 3.6 million+ uses

More than 135,500 people have been saved from potential death or serious injury using TASER® devices.

How many foreign law enforcement agencies use Tasers?

TASER weapons are deployed in 107 countries.

According to my investigation, Miami's three main police departments - Miami Police, Miami-Dade Police and Miami Beach Police - have used their Tasers 3,060 times in less than eight years. That is a rate of more than once per day. Several civil rights experts and police watchdog groups argue that this rate is excessive. Are Miami police overusing their Tasers?

That is up to courts to decide and TASER as a company is not a use of force expert.

Tasers were introduced in Miami with the argument that they would reduce deadly shootouts and save lives -- a claim recited on your company's website. Yet, fatal police-involved shootings in Miami have risen since the introduction of Tasers (even as crime and violent crime have fallen).

TASER has never stated that TASER weapons are a replacement for firearms as deadly force is deadly force. TASER weapons are considered "intermediate weapons" by US courts. TASER weapons can stop uses of force in some cases from escalating to deadly force in some circumstances. Perhaps you can review what former Miami Chief Timoney said about their TASER experience.

According to Amnesty International, more than 540 people have died in the United States after being hit with a Taser. Amnesty International also says that in more than 60 of these deaths, a coroner has cited Taser as a cause of death or contributing factor. By my account, at least 11 Miami men have died in the past eight years after being Tasered. Five have died after being Tasered in the past 16 months.

How many were listed as caused or contributory to TASER use?

Is your company troubled by these deaths?

Any death is of concern but note that 90% of the 540 that Amnesty cites were not listed by coroners or medical examiners as contributed or caused by TASER weapons.

Taser International used to call its devices "non lethal." Does your company still consider its products "non lethal"?

We use the term "less lethal" as that is the term for "intermediate weapons" in the lexicon of law enforcement. We use non-lethal in the military community as that is the terminology used by the military for non-deadly force. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) uses the term non-lethal and that is still used by numerous college programs in the U.S. and U.K. to describe "Non-Lethal Weapons" studies. DOD policy defines non-lethal weapons as "weapon systems that are explicitly designed and primarily employed so as to incapacitate personnel or materiel, while minimizing fatalities, permanent injury to personnel, and undesired damage to property and the environment..."

It is important to note that Department of Defense policy does not require or expect non-lethal weapons "to have a zero probability of producing fatalities or permanent injuries." Rather, non-lethal weapons are intended to significantly reduce the probability of such fatalities or injuries as compared with traditional military weapons which achieve their effects through the physical destruction of targets -- Joint Concept for Non-lethal Weapons, United States Marine Corps

One case that I mention in my article is the Aug. 6, 2013 death of 18-year-old Israel Hernandez in Miami Beach. Earlier this year, his death was the first in Florida to be officially attributed to Taser-use by a medical examiner. Does Taser admit that, in rare cases, its products can be lethal?

TASER International is always concerned when a death tragically occurs in custody and mourns the loss of a life. We do not comment, however, on an unfortunate death without having been provided any factual documentation by the medical examiner or the opportunity to review the autopsy report.

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Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.