Power of stun gun gets another look

Law enforcement officials are divided on its safety.
Monday, January 10, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:09 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Securities and Exchange Commission has launched an informal investigation of the maker of stun guns, or Tasers, but that is not expected to deter the Boone County Sheriff’s Department from purchasing the product.

“Until someone can come up with documentation that they are dangerous, we’re going to be using them,” Sheriff Dwayne Carey said.

Last month, the Arizona Republic reported that since 1999, 84 deaths occurred after stun gun use in the United States and Canada. Of those deaths, coroners determined that 11 were directly caused by Tasers.

Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Taser International claims its safety studies have proven that stun guns have not been related to any deaths or serious injuries. However, the Arizona Republic reported that the company did not begin examining autopsies until April 2004.

In the meantime, the Boone County Sheriff’s Department plans to purchase 30 more Taser guns this year. The department currently has 15 stun guns in use — eight at the jail, five with patrolmen and two for the emergency response team. This year, $21,000 has been budgeted to buy new stun guns, which will be used by patrolling officers.

“If the individual knows what it is or what it’s capable of doing,” officers won’t have to shoot, said Carey, who calls himself a “big fan” of the product. He said the Taser was deployed only five times in 18 incidents last year.

The Columbia Police Department has budgeted $18,659 this year to purchase 20 stun guns. However, Chief Randy Boehm said the department will not purchase Tasers until it completes its own testing of the product.

“People are alleging that injuries and deaths have occurred, (and) we are monitoring those cases and studies, but at this point we too believe that it is a safe tool,” Boehm said.

To examine the guns, the Columbia Police Department is ordering two stun guns with money from private donations.

Boehm said two officers have been trained to use the product and will be conducting the tests. They will not be carrying the stun guns on patrol, however.

Since 1999, three deaths in Missouri have occurred following stun gun use. The most widely reported incident was the August 2004 death of Ernest Blackwell, 29, a former MU football player. Police shocked Blackwell twice with a stun gun after he shot his stepdaughter and two neighbors in St. Louis. Blackwell died en route to the hospital after being sedated.

The Associated Press also reported Friday that the SEC is examining Taser’s $1.5 million sale of stun guns in December to an Arizona firearms distributor in a manner that some stock analysts interpret as the company’s attempt to inflate sales, to meet its annual financial projections.

In light of the investigations, Taser International’s stock fell almost 18 percent on Friday, closing on the NASDAQ at $4.90. The stock reached a high of $33.45 in December.

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