Thursday, March 06, 2008

A Note On Taser Usage Statistics

I'm getting a few hits from folks searching for statistics on taser usage; they’re landing on this post about some statistics out of Canada indicating that tasers do not reduce firearm usage. Disregarding the misguided notion, born in large part from Taser International propaganda, that Tasers are somehow supplanting guns as a kinder, softer way to take down the bad guys, I've tried to piece together a few numbers on taser usage I’ve come across while researching tasers.

In my searches, I’ve noticed a lack of information on Taser usage, or, at least, it’s not available in a centralized location. This post is by no means an attempt to create such a database. That’s something I hope Amnesty International or another foundation will work on (And to be sure, it’s no small task. Institutions that have tried gathering these statistics have
run into a lack of quality sources). Instead, what follows are a few anecdotal numbers from various cities in the US.

- In
Pittsburg Taser use jumped from 274 to 332 from 2005 to 2006 with firearms usage against subjects going from 14 to 6. That’s quite a seemingly asymmetric change, but without knowing the variability in firearm use over a longer time period, it’s a tough call.

- San Antonio has been using Tasers since 2006, and as of January, 2008, has had 99 taser applications. In 40 of these 99 cases, police believed the person tased was carrying a firearm. 0 of the 99 suspects were carrying firearms; 8 had “cutting instruments.” The link has a nice breakdown of the city’s taser statistics for their first year in use. It’s worth noting here that Amnesty International’s “270 dead following tasing” statistic covering 2001 to 2007 includes only 22 people purported to be carrying any weapons prior to tasing.

- According to a 2005 city memo, the most frequent use of force by the
Austin police department is tasing. From January to Septmber of 2004, tasers comprised 33% of force used, pepper-like spray was at 25%, and hand-control was at 23%. The previous year had hand-control at 51%, “hard” hand-control at 20%, pepper-like spray at 17%, and tasers at 3%.

- In
Knoxville, taser use has skyrocketed in the past few years. Tasers were use 13 times from 1998 to 2004, 39 times in 2005, and 79 times in 2006.

- In
Minneapolis, where police have ordered 230 tasers that will be delivered in time for the 2008 Republican National Convention, tasers were used 232 times in 2006, up 75% from 2005. That first link is a PDF file; a nice non-PDF analysis of the report can be found here.

- In December, 2007, Durham (pdf file, news story here) approved a solesource purchase of 110 X26 Taser devices. According to the city's website (scroll to page bottom), the goal is to arm every officer with a taser. I think it's a safe assumption that more tasers will mean more tasing of the city's citizens.

- New Haven, CT will soon be doubling their number of tasers from 50 to 100. Tasers have been used by police there 26 times since their deployment last summer.

- In some cities, such as San Jose, the police only release summaries of their taser application statistics, thereby limiting external, independent analysis of their numbers (We pay these people right?).

With many of these numbers, it’s worth bearing in mind that the numbers of tasers may have increased over the time period the numbers cover. But that’s kind of the point isn’t it? More tasers are in the hands of police and they’re being used. Rates are interesting to be sure, but so is the gross number of taser applications. An increase in the total number of people being tased is a trend not to be ignored.

I’d love to see someone create, and make public, a searchable database on electroshock weapon (aka taser) usage. For my part, I’m contacting my
ACLU chapter and Amnesty International to inquire about such a beast.