Society & Culture - Posted by Andy Henion-Michigan State on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 14:50 - 3 Comments
Is safety ‘trade-off’ of stun guns justified?
MICHIGAN STATE (US) — While stun guns give police officers better protection than other restraint methods, they also significantly increase the chance a citizen will be injured, a new study shows.
The federally-funded research presents a dilemma for police agencies weighing use of the controversial weapon. Nationally, some 260,000 electronic control devices, or stun guns, are in use in 11,500 law enforcement agencies.
“The findings are quite complex, in that citizen injuries increased but officer injuries decreased,” says William Terrill, associate professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University. “Police agencies have to balance the findings. They have to consider whether this is a trade-off they can accept.”
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Stun guns deliver a painful and immobilizing electrical shock through two prongs that are pressed directly against the suspect or through two barb-tipped wires shot from the weapon. The majority of previous research has generally found stun guns to be non-harmful to those on the receiving end.
Some previous studies have been anecdotal or misleading, Terrill says. After a stun gun incident, the officer notes on his report whether the suspect was injured. Yet some researchers, for the purposes of their studies, change the officer’s ruling if they consider the injury minor—such as a laceration or a burn from the stun gun—which effectively “changes the rules” of objective research.
Criminologists studied stun gun incidents in a sampling of mid-sized to large U.S. cities over a period of nearly four years. The researchers spent a month each in Columbus, Ohio, Portland, Oregon, and Knoxville, Tennessee. All police departments in the study used the Taser gun made by Arizona-based Taser International.
In the first of the two studies, which appears in the current print issue of Justice Quarterly, researchers found citizens were injured 41 percent of the time when officers used a stun gun only during apprehension. By contrast, citizens were injured only 29 percent of the time when no stun gun was used. (When stun guns were used with another restraint method, such as pepper spray or wresting the suspect to the ground, citizens were injured 47 percent of the time.)
The study looked at 13,913 use-of-force cases in seven cities. The researchers took into account a host of factors, including the amount of citizen resistance, influence of alcohol or drugs, and officer experience. Injuries ranged from cuts to broken bones.
In the second study, online now in Police Quarterly, the researchers found officers were injured 5 percent of the time when using a stun gun only. By contrast, officers were injured nearly 10 percent of the time when no stun gun was used. The study looked at 12,455 use-of-force cases in six cities.
The most important factor in use-of-force cases is the officer’s safety, Terrill says. At the same time, stun guns may not be the “panacea” as many believe.
“There has been this increased perception that these devices are effective and safe,” he says. “But in terms of safeness, our data conclusively shows they are not safe to citizens.
“Now, are there concerns to the point that we’re recommending that law enforcement agencies not use them? Absolutely not. We think there needs to be more careful analysis done, and it has to be done in a way that’s fair and objective.”
The next step is determining how effective stun guns are in subduing a suspect, something Terrill and colleagues are analyzing.
Investigators from the University of Central Florida and Illinois State University contribued to the research, which was funded by the National Institute of Justice.
More news from Michigan State University: http://news.msu.edu/