Friday, January 23, 2009


Researchers at UCSF provide compelling data supporting my fear of interacting with officers armed with tasers:

Cardiologists Byron Lee and Zian Tseng studied data provided by law enforcement agencies from 50 cities, and found the number of in-custody deaths went up six-fold in the first year a department started using Tasers. Lee and Tseng believe officers may be aiming too close to the heart.

This alternate story on the UCSF study offers a link to the paper's official press release.

I can say from my own experience that a six-fold finding in any direction is reason to jump around the room in excitement - not because of the way the finding fell, but because it's unusual to have data reveal such huge trends. For example, I read a paper yesterday demonstrating that a particular gene was related to a pathology 7-percent of the time (speaking non-technically).

Other times in science, demonstrating a 50-percent response can be a big deal. But here, the researchers have found a six-fold change. Very roughly, that's 600-percent. That's enormous. No, that's ginormous. It also has to be a frightening finding for Taser International and its shareholders (Cue Taser International sock puppets to disparage the UCSF researchers.).

Note that this study stands in stark contrast to the recent study from researchers at Wake Forest University. As noted at Excited-Delirium, the study included two, count em, two taser-proximal deaths. What did they expect to find? Always follow the funding. I haven't done that myself yet for the Wake Forest work, but it's on my list.

But wait, there's more! The UCSF study also find finds that, in the first year after taser deployment, gun does not decrease. In fact it increases two-fold! Seriously, read this:

The rate of sudden deaths increased six-fold in the first year that California law enforcement agencies deployed the use of stun guns, according to a UCSF study. Findings also showed a two-fold increase in the rate of firearm-related deaths during the same time period.

The most widely used brand of stun gun is the Taser, and the team surveyed for outcomes related to the deployment of this device.

While some industry-funded controlled human studies have shown Tasers to cause no harm, this study suggests that their real-world effects pose greater medical risk and more danger than previous reports, said study author Zian H. Tseng, MD. Although the device has been advertised to decrease the number of shooting deaths and officer injuries, study outcomes showed an increase rather than a reduction in the rate of shooting deaths and no change in officer injuries following Taser deployment, he added.

Researchers found that rates of sudden and firearm-related deaths declined back to near pre-deployment levels after the first year of Taser usage. The team postulated that law enforcement agencies self-corrected, likely adjusting their usage protocol or technique after the first year.

We've heard over and over that tasers reduce gun use. It's a falsehood that just won't die. I'm sure that it will live on, but this study has to make even the hardiest taser fanboy want to cry in his beer.

I wonder if the final NIJ report on in-custody post-tasing deaths, expected sometime this year, will reference this study. I have a feeling that the NIJ panel would only reference it dismissively. Hmm, now why would I think that? (Hint: look to the panel's members.)