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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Justice department's taser report underscores need for strict limits on use, says Amnesty International

June 25, 2008

WASHINGTON - June 25 - The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) interim report on stun devices underscores Amnesty International’s concerns about the safety of the weapons, the human rights organization said today.

“The U.S. government itself has now recognized that at least 300 people have died after Tasers were used against them,” said Dalia Hashad, director of Amnesty International USA’s domestic human rights program. “Justice Department concerns bolster what Amnesty International has been saying for years – more data is needed. When police use Tasers on vulnerable populations, the true impact is simply unknown. This is a cause for alarm.”

While the NIJ report found no conclusive evidence of a high risk of death or injury from the direct effects of conducted energy devices (CEDs), it acknowledged that “many aspects of the safety of CED technology are not well-known, especially when used on populations other than normal, healthy adults.” It noted that the safety margins of CED use on healthy adults may not be applicable among children, the elderly, pregnant women, people with heart disease and those who show signs of “excited delirium.” The NIJ recommended that police officers avoid the use of CEDs against these populations unless the situation excludes other options.

The NIJ report also stated that many of the deaths are associated with prolonged or repeated CED discharges, and called on law enforcement officers to exercise caution in using multiple activations.

“There is still an open question surrounding more than 300 deaths, and this cannot be taken lightly,” said Hashad. “These devices, by their very nature, are prone to abuse. In too many cases, they have been inappropriately used as a weapon of first resort. The extreme potential for abuse is something the Justice Department has not yet addressed in this report.”

Some 12,000 U.S. law enforcement agencies currently deploy Tasers or similar devices. The Justice Department study was commissioned in 2006 following reports of more than 150 deaths of individuals subdued by police CEDs. Since June 2001, Amnesty International has recorded more than 300 deaths in the United States after exposure to CEDs during arrest situations. Amnesty International (AI) maintains that police departments should cease using CEDs or limit their use strictly to situations where there is an imminent threat of death or serious injury.

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