Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How Do You Spell Lawsuit? TASER

Recently, Taser International, the Arizona based maker of 50,000-volt stun guns, advised local police and sheriff's departments not to shoot its stun guns at a suspect's chest.

In a training bulletin to its law enforcement customers, the company says such action poses a risk, extremely low, but still a slight risk of an "adverse cardiac event."

It is the first time the manufacturer has hinted that there is a risk of heart damage when jolted by their product. At least one study says there have been about 50 cardiac deaths resulting from stun gun hits between 2001 and late 2008.

The Arizona Republic reported, "Taser officials said Tuesday the bulletin does not state that Tasers can cause cardiac arrest. They said the advisory means only that law-enforcement agencies can avoid controversy if their officers aim at areas other than the chest.

Here's where the legal and public relations challenge arises.

Even though it was carefully worded, Taser's advisory gives lawyers an argument to use to sue officers and police departments, and an excuse to seek big-dollar settlements. And for the public information officers of police agencies, it gives reporters another club to beat up on law enforcement when the rare death or serious injury does occur.

I would much rather an officer shoot me with his Taser than with his 9MM. But I would hate to be the PIO who has to defend his/her department and an officer, when they Taze a child or an elderly woman, even if they don't kill them.

One solution is for more and better training about the risks and the best way to utilize the stun gun and minimize lethal consequences. And, yes, I understand that officers often must make quick decisions under the most difficult and challenging circumstances, without time to think of the long-term consequences. But, with better and more thorough training, it becomes easier to make the correct decision in that split second.

The point of this post, is a challenge to chiefs and sheriffs to establish and enforce reasonable rules of engagement, and to the PIO's to anticipate the questions and potential firestorm that can result from such a tragic event. But, not only to anticipate, but to create a plan and talking points in case you are faced with this situation.

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