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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

NIJ In-Custody Death Study: The Impact of Use of Conducted Energy Devices

An expert panel of medical professionals found no conclusive evidence of a high risk of death or serious injury from the direct effects of Conducted Energy Devices (CEDs), such as Tasers.The panel is studying deaths related to the use of CEDs. In an interim report, the panel said that law enforcement agencies need not stop using CEDs, but cautioned that they should be used reasonably and only after proper training. Law enforcement agencies that use CEDs report reduced injuries to officers and suspects alike. However, deaths and serious injuries of suspects also occur.

Repeated Use is Risky

Many of the deaths that followed a CED discharge took place when it was used repeatedly or continuously. The medical risks involved in repeated or continuous CED discharges are unknown. Thus, the expert medical panel urges caution in using multiple activations.

Certain Populations are More Vulnerable

The panel's interim report said the risk of a death or serious injury is low when police use CEDs against healthy adults. Certain groups may be at much higher risk of injury or death from CEDs. These groups include children, the elderly, pregnant women, people who have heart disease and those who show signs of "excited delirium." Police officers should avoid the use of CEDs against these populations unless the situation excludes other choices.

The panel also noted a risk of sudden death when suspects are in an agitated and combative state that is sometimes called "excited delirium." Police officers should treat this as a medical emergency. People in this state often exhibit combativeness and have elevated body temperatures. In these cases, a danger of sudden death exists whether police officers use a CED or not. The panel recommended that emergency medical personnel should provide cooling, sedation and hydration as soon as possible.The Justice Department is aware of more than 300 cases of Americans dying after exposure to CEDs. Some were normal, healthy adults. Others had medical conditions such as heart disease, mental illness or chemical dependencies. Several manufacturers sell CEDs to American law enforcement agencies. However, TASER International of Scottsdale, Ariz., is, by far, the leading supplier. About 12,000 (out of some 18,000) American law enforcement agencies use CEDs. More than 260,000 CEDs are in use by American law enforcement and corrections agencies.Police officers should arrange for suitable medical care for people who suffer injuries. This is especially important when darts penetrate vulnerable areas of the head, face, neck, genitals or female breast areas, or in case of injury from falls or burns.

The panel expects to release a final report in 2009. [Mark Godsey]

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