Police should use Tasers sparingly
Honolulu police will be allowed to use the electric stun guns under certain conditions.
THE Honolulu Police Department will join an estimated 7,000 of the nation's 18,000 police agencies that use Tasers
, the powerful stun guns used as a nonlethal alternative to bullet-firing weapons. Whether they can be lethal remains an issue, and they should be used as a rare necessity rather than a convenience until the evidence is conclusive.
In the past 20 years, 184 suspects in the United States have died after being subdued with stun guns, according to the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the Justice Department. The death toll is rising as the use of Tasers, the most popular stun guns, has soared; two deaths occurred in 1986, one in 1990 and all the rest since 2000.
The institute announced last month that it will assess 30 cases where deaths were attributed to stun guns or authorities could not determine whether a stun gun caused or contributed to a death. The research, to be conducted by medical examiners, cardiologists and other experts, eventually could include the other 154 deaths in which stun guns were ruled as a factor.
Taser International Inc., the Arizona company that manufactures the guns, maintains the weapon's 50,000-volt shock through two barbed darts does not cause death or injury. However, a recent study by a scientist at the University of Minnesota found that shocks from Tasers caused the hearts of healthy pigs, whose hearts are similar to those of humans, to stop beating.
The HPD policy states that Tasers can be used "where an officer or someone else is physically confronted, serious bodily injury is imminent and no other alternative exists."
Maj. Susan Ballard of the department's training division said the Taser is considered a less-than-lethal option, but Alex Garcia, president of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers' Oahu division, said he believes "it could be deadly to an officer or the public."
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