Medical implications of the Taser

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c853 (Published 22 February 2010)
Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c853

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  1. Jason Payne-James, forensic physician1,
  2. Bob Sheridan, research scientist2,
  3. Graham Smith, physicist3
  1. 1Cameron Forensic Medical Sciences, Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, London EC1M 6BQ
  2. 2Injury Assessment and Management Team, Biomedical Sciences Department, Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, Salisbury, Wiltshire SP4 0JQ
  3. 3Firearms and Protective Equipment, Home Office Scientific Development Branch, St Albans, Hertfordshire AL4 9HQ
  1. jasonpaynejames{at}aol.com

    Serious harm is rare, but incident reporting needs to be improved

    Several tactical options are available to police officers facing potentially aggressive or violent people or those with acute behavioural disturbance. The less lethal options include restraint, batons, incapacitant sprays, impact rounds, and conducted energy devices such as Tasers. Although none is risk free, Tasers have attracted particular controversy, with Amnesty International identifying more than 300 deaths associated with their use in the United States.1 However, association is not causation, and other factors complicate the interpretation of fatal outcomes.

    The dominant conducted energy device used in police forces worldwide is the Taser X26. This device generates five second trains of electrical pulses that are delivered to the body either by two propelled barbs (which embed in clothing or skin and remain connected to the handset by conductive wire) or by direct contact of the handset’s electrodes (drive-stun mode).2 In the United Kingdom, propelled barbs are used by police in 90% of incidents in which such a device is discharged.3 Anecdotal evidence indicates that the threat of discharge alone may be an effective deterrent.3

    In drive-stun mode, the principal action of the discharge is to induce pain (designed to gain the subject’s compliance). When the barbs are propelled, greater electrode separation facilitates the induction of involuntary (and painful) contraction of skeletal …

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