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Florida police should limit stun gun use

Tampa Police Department is unsure of how to respond to a memo from Taser International that warns law enforcement officers not to shoot suspects in the chest with their stun guns.

Stun guns are turning out to be more dangerous than previously thought, resulting in death sometimes, and Florida law enforcement agencies should reconsider how often they use the weapons.

Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor doesn’t agree with the memo.

“I mean, where else are you going to aim if they say ‘no chest’ and then when you shoot the thing, it spreads out?” said Castor to the St. Petersburg Times. “So we’re going to have to figure out what the deal is with that.”

Tasers work over a distance and shoot out two barbs that deliver a debilitating electric charge when they hit someone. The farther away the target is, the more the barbs spread out and the less accurate the weapon is, Castor said.

Taser International spokesman Steve Tuttle said in the memo that law enforcement officers should avoid the head, neck and chest. Tasers should be aimed below the chest or to the back if possible.

“The issuing of a preferred target zone is a prime example of training advice based on best practices and field results to minimize controversy, increase effectiveness and provide enhanced risk management,” Tuttle said.

The controversy Tuttle referred to is the number of recent deaths attributed to the use of a Taser, which could lead to lawsuits against police officers.

According to a report published by Amnesty International, 334 people died in the U.S. between 2001 and August 2008 after being struck by a Taser.

Fifty-two deaths were reported in Florida alone – making it the second highest state just after California, which had 55.

Proving that using a Taser contributes to death is difficult, however. According to the report, most of the deaths were attributed to other factors, such as drug intoxication. Taser shocks were ruled as the cause or a factor in only about 50 of the cases.

Roney Wilson of Hillsborough County died last year after being shocked thrice by a Taser, but according to the Times, the cause of death was ruled by a medical examiner as “delirium with agitation due to schizoaffective disorder.”

Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union have pointed out that though agitated delirium is attributed to many Taser-related deaths, the condition is not found in any medical books, nor is it recognized by the American Medical Association.

The fact that Taser International has added safety warnings should be proof enough that its products are dangerous. Law enforcement agencies need to reform their use of stun guns, saving them as a last resort.