The increasing use of stun guns by law enforcement agencies across the USA is giving rise to studies and policies aimed at managing their use.
Stun guns are used by more than 12,700 U.S. law enforcement and military agencies, up from 500 in 2000, according to Steve Tuttle, spokesman for leading manufacturer Taser International.
As stun guns become commonplace, state and local officials seek safeguards, sometimes in response to public outcry over the use of the devices.
In April, Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell issued a report calling on the state's police agencies to set policies addressing such issues as when it is appropriate to use stun guns multiple times on one person.
The report, which followed Brattleboro police's stunning of two people at a sit-in protest, said police should not stun passive resisters.
*The North Carolina Taser Safety Project, which includes the state American Civil Liberties Union chapter, reports at least 13 sheriffs have adopted restrictions since last summer, said Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the state's ACLU. Among them are restrictions against using stun guns against passive resisters, those in handcuffs and those near flammable materials.
*The Orange County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office limits stun gun use to those actively resisting arrest, a policy that has become state law, Cmdr. Spike Hopkins said.
*Honolulu police are banned from using stun guns for passive resistance or protest and discouraged from firing them at children, seniors or suspects who are handcuffed or fleeing from custody, said Maj. Susan Ballard, a training officer.
The National Institute of Justice completed a two-year study in April on police stun guns. Findings and recommendations are likely to be released to law enforcement in the next few weeks, said William Bozeman, a member of the study group.
In Rutherford County, N.C., on April 1, a deputy sheriff stunned Evan Webb, 21, who had lashed his hands to earthmoving equipment to protest a Duke Energy coal-fired power plant under construction.
"It was excruciating," the Elon University senior said. "I just started begging them … to stop."
Webb, who pleaded no contest to misdemeanor trespassing and resisting arrest, criticized deputies for using the stun guns to compel him and another protester to move. Rutherford County Sheriff Jack Connor said it was the best means of persuasion after the protesters refused to move from private property.
In September, University of Florida police stunned student Andrew Meyer when he wouldn't leave or stop asking questions at an appearance by Sen. John Kerry. A video of Meyer screaming "Don't tase me, bro!" became a multimillion-view hit on YouTube.
State Sen. Stephen Wise, a sponsor of the legislation that led to Florida's 2006 law that requires training for police and limits their use of stun guns to people actively resisting, said he didn't know whether Meyer met that standard but said the force seemed excessive.
From June 2001 to September 2007 — the most recent period for which statistics are available — at least 276 people had died nationwide after police stunned them, according to an Amnesty International report. The report did not consider whether the weapons were directly responsible for the deaths.
Tuttle said Tasers are safer than common police techniques such as wielding a nightstick, releasing a dog or wrestling a suspect to the ground. "No one has better field results in reducing injuries to both officers and suspects than Taser International," he said.
A Wake Forest University study last year of police use of stun guns found they are "remarkably safe" compared with bludgeoning weapons or hand-to-hand combat, said Bozeman, the lead investigator.
Schrader reports for the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times.