04 December 2007

Tasers are safe? Oh. Never mind then...

I take it all back. Nothing bad about Tasering people. Just a few good natured 50,000 volt tickles and you're on your way.

Taser stun guns used by the police for law enforcement are safe - the injury rate is low and most injuries appear to be minor, a US study finds.

The electric disablers that hit their target with 50,000 volts are commonly used by US police and are increasingly being used by UK forces.

Human rights experts have expressed concern about the use of the stun gun.

But a Wake Forest University review of 1,000 US cases suggests the risk and severity of injuries is low.

Most injuries were mild, such as scrapes or bruises.

Three of the subjects suffered injuries severe enough to need hospital admission - two had head injuries suffered in falls after Taser use. The third was admitted to hospital two days after arrest with a medical condition of unclear relationship to the Taser.

Two subjects died but autopsy reports suggested neither death was related to the Taser.

Interim results on 597 of the cases were published in Annals of Emergency Medicine in September.

Lead researcher Dr William Bozeman, who received funding from the US National Institute of Justice for the work, said: "This is the largest study to date and the first to detail the medical effects of Tasers under real-world conditions.

"These results support the safety of the device. The injury rate is low and most injuries appear to be minor."

He stressed, however, that the Taser was a weapon and could clearly cause injuries and even deaths.

Amnesty International says Tasers have been linked to more than 70 deaths in America.

When Tasers are fired, two metal barbs connected to the weapon by a thin wire pierce the skin before the charge is delivered.

In the UK, police officers who carry guns have also carried Tasers since 2004. In September 2007, the Home Office extended permission to non-firearms officers in pilot areas.

Amnesty International's Arms Programme Director, Oliver Sprague, said: "Let's not be misled here. Tasers are dangerous electro-shock weapons.

"This is why we are urging the Home Office to review its decision and to ensure that only specialist firearms officers use the Taser in very limited circumstances and only as an alternative to shooting a lethal weapon."

A Home Office spokesman said: "The risk of life-threatening and other serious injuries is considered to be low.

"Tasers have contributed to resolving incidents without injury where otherwise there would have been a real possibility of someone being shot and killed.

"In some cases they have not needed to be fired: drawing them or arcing the Taser has been enough of a deterrent."

In England, a Taser has been used (drawn or fired) in service by the police 851 times, since April 2003.

Taser death in Canada airport

Still think Tasers aren't being misused?

Video footage has been released in Canada showing the last moments of an immigrant who died after being stunned with a Taser by police. Robert Dziekanski, 40, of Pieszyce, Poland, was restrained by police after becoming agitated at Vancouver International Airport on 14 October.Mr Dziekanski, who spoke no English, was declared dead at the scene by an emergency medical team.

The incident is being investigated by police, the airport and the coroner. Police spokesman Cpl Dale Carr said the video was just one piece of evidence, and urged people to wait for the results of the inquest. Mr Dziekanski, a construction worker, was emigrating to Canada to join his mother, who lived in the western province of British Columbia.

The incident has prompted a debate about the use of Taser stun guns by police in Canada. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation says up to 18 people have died after being stunned by a Taser in Canada since 2003.

The video was shot by Canadian traveller Paul Pritchard and handed over to police, and has only just been returned to him.

It starts before the police arrive, with Mr Dziekanski seen through a glass wall in a customs area. He appears agitated, sweating and breathing heavily. Airport security officials and passengers watch from the other side.

Having landed 10 hours earlier, he is seen pacing back and forth through an automatic door, standing briefly in the doorway with a small folding table, and then later with a chair. At one point, he takes what looks like a laptop computer off a counter and throws it to the ground, and then throws the small table against the glass wall.

Four policemen then walk into view. They walk through the glass doors towards Mr Dziekanski, who turns his back on them. Witnesses say he appeared to pick up a stapler. Seconds later, Mr Dziekanski is stunned by a Taser and falls down screaming and convulsing.

He is stunned a second time, and then the police officers restrain him on the floor. Mr Dziekanski's screams die down, and he is seen lying still. A voice is heard saying "code red", which is code for a medical emergency.

An autopsy found no sign of drugs or alcohol in Mr Dziekanski's system, and failed to pinpoint the cause of death.

Walter Kosteckyj, the victim's family lawyer, said Mr Dziekanski's mother had seen portions of the video and had approved its release to the public. "She had a son in distress, he was looking for help, he was frightened, and he didn't get that help," Mr Kosteckyj said. He said he was disturbed by the video because Mr Dziekanski was not violent.

"I was expecting to see a confrontation, a discussion and things go sideways, then the tasering... That's not what you see," he said.

Mr Dziekanski, who had not flown before, had boarded a plane a day earlier in Germany, and arranged to meet his mother at the baggage carousel in the international terminal.

Neither of them knew the baggage carousel was inside a secure area, with no view of the public arrivals hall area, except for a short distance through sliding glass doors, Mr Kosteckyj said.

No airport, customs or security employees at the airport apparently tried to help either of them, he added. Eventually Mr Dziekanski emerged into the public area, but his mother had left after six hours and Mr Dziekanski apparently panicked, the lawyer said. Link

Pain-Blog Carnival

The always awesome How To Cope With Pain Blog has this month's pain-blog carnival up:

Your's truly was too busy working on our job search process to contribute...

Compulsions in Tourette's Syndrome

In An Anthropologist On Mars Oliver Sacks describes the compulsions of Tourette's Syndrome:
it is often difficult for Touretters, to see their Tourette's as something external to themselves, because many of the tics and urges may be felt as intentional, as an integral part of the self, the personality, the will. It is quite different, by contrast, with something like Parkinsonism or chorea: these have no quality of selfness or intentionality and are always felt as diseases, as outside the self. Compulsions and tics occupy an intermediate position, seeming sometimes to be an expression of one's personal will, sometimes a coercion of it by another, alien will. These ambiguities are often expressed in the terms people use. Thus the separateness of 'it' and 'I' is sometimes expressed by jocular personifications of the Tourette's: one Touretter I know calls his Tourette's 'Toby,' another 'Mr. T.' By contrast, a Tourettic possession of the self was vividly expressed by one young man in Utah, who wrote to me that he had a Tourettized soul.' [102]