Two electrically charged darts of a Taser gun are shown by Honolulu police.

No major injuries
in isles from Tasers,
police say

Police said there have been no serious injuries reported since Oahu and Maui officers began using high-voltage Taser stun guns this year.

Every person hit by a Taser during the Honolulu Police Department's pilot study was taken to a hospital for a precautionary examination. "There have been no serious injuries so far," said department spokeswoman Michelle Yu.

Night-shift patrol officers in urban Honolulu and all shifts at the police cellblock are armed with Tasers while officials review the study, Yu said. Weapons were discharged at least 40 times during the study period, which ended in July. No other figures are available, she said.

The Maui Police Department is finding that three out of four times, the threat of being hit with wire probes that carry up to 50,000 volts of electricity is enough to make a subject back down.

Maui officers have pulled the weapons 15 times and fired four times during a pilot study that began Oct. 17, said Sgt. Mark Joaquin. "All four were arrested. None needed medical attention."

Wailuku patrol officers and the entire Maui Traffic Division carry the weapons, said Joaquin, one of two Maui officers who were trained at the Arizona Taser factory and returned to train local officers.

"Our officers go through 12 hours of training, three times as much as the company recommends," Joaquin said.

The Maui pilot program will continue for "40 deployments or six months," he said. Each time a Taser is drawn is considered a "deployment" and part of the data to be analyzed later.

An officer makes a decision in each case if the Taser "is a justifiable level of force to use, judged in light of the circumstances," Joaquin said. "When the intent to use is made known to the subject who is resisting, and that is sufficient to have people comply with the law officer, that is a successful use of the weapon."

He added, "We continue to meet with people who have concerns."

Honolulu police officials are looking at other departments' policies on Taser use, Yu said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii asked the Honolulu and Maui police chiefs last month to restrict use of the stun guns solely to situations in which lethal force is justified.


Taser demand soars
despite concerns

A group says police abuse
the stun guns and calls
for more safety tests

PHOENIX » From Korean Air flight crews to U.S. police and corrections officers to beat cops in Britain, the orders are pouring in for stun guns made by Taser International Inc.

The Scottsdale, Ariz., company even recently launched a metro Phoenix ad campaign urging private citizens to arm themselves with the weapons, which temporarily paralyze people with a 50,000-volt jolt.

Yet while Taser's stock has soared with the booming business, concerns are growing about whether the shock-inducing guns are truly as nonlethal as advertised.

In a report being released today, Amnesty International says stun guns are being abused by police and wants more scientific study done to determine whether the devices are safe.

Amnesty says at least 74 people have died in the United States and Canada in the last four years after being shocked with Tasers.

The group also says officers have turned stun guns on the mentally disturbed, children and seniors.

"Not only do we not know the impact of these weapons on human beings under various conditions, we are also concerned about the gratuitous use of these weapons," said Gerald Le Melle, deputy executive director of Amnesty International USA.

A Defense Department-sponsored report also calls for more testing, and some health professionals are expressing concern that the potential for cardiac arrest could be too high.

Amnesty worried that "the deployment of Tasers, rather than minimizing the use of force, may dangerously extend the boundaries of what are considered 'acceptable' levels of force."

Similar to a device first developed in the 1970s, the Taser became available to consumers in the early 1990s and is now used by more than 6,000 law enforcement agencies worldwide as well as the U.S. military, which has used them in Iraq and Afghanistan and ordered nearly $2 million worth of stun guns and accessories this summer.

Taser officials bill the guns, which shoot two barbed darts whose current can penetrate up to two inches of clothing, as among the safest ways of subduing violent people in high-risk situations. Tasers have a range of up to 21 feet and can also shock on contact, like a cattle prod.

"We get e-mail from police every week ... thanking us for developing a weapon so they didn't have to shoot somebody," said company Chairman Phil Smith. "We're saving lives every day and cops love them."

Phoenix police officers credit Tasers with helping police shootings drop by more than half and fatal shootings by 31 percent last year.

"We've seen them reduce injury to suspects ... who in the past we would have had to strike multiple times with fists or batons," said Sgt. Randy Force, a department spokesman.

While not opposed to stun guns in principle, Amnesty International wants law enforcement to stop using Tasers until scientific evidence can show they do not kill.

In a majority of Taser-related fatalities, coroners have attributed the cause of death to heart problems, drug overdose or asphyxiation. But some medical experts believe Taser shocks could exacerbate a risk of heart failure in cases where people are agitated, under the influence of drugs or have underlying health problems.

"If I hit the heart or create electricity in the wrong time of the (beat) cycle, it could send the whole heart into an electrical tailspin," said Dr. Kathy Glatter, an electrophysiologist and assistant professor of medicine at the University of California-Davis.

Amnesty International claims stun guns are being fired too often where the use of force is unacceptable. In many of the deaths it cites, the person was shocked multiple times or subjected to other forms of force, like pepper spray, batons or hogtying.

AP writer Sam Hananel in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.



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