Sept. 24--Taser use by police officers has dropped or leveled off at most area police departments, but they say it has nothing to do with recent reports connecting deaths to the electric charge of the devices.
The Cincinnati Police Department recently amended its policy on use of the device in the wake of a new study that reports Taser shots to the chest can be lethal. The new policy prohibits -- except in self-defense or in protecting another person -- shooting people in the head, neck, eyes, throat, chest or genitals.
Most local police departments said they have already made similar changes to their policies and will continue to use the devices when situations call for it.
Earlier this year, cardiologist Dr. Douglas P. Zipes issued a peer-reviewed study in the American Heart Association journal that connected electric shock from the devices to the death of seven of eight people he studied
Tasers send 50,000 volts into a person's body causing their body muscles to contract on their own.
Several police chiefs said they followed advice Taser International shared a couple years ago, telling police to avoid certain parts of the body, like the chest.
"Our training has been that that's not the preferred area, the upper chest. Ours is no face, no upper chest, no groin area. We try to aim below, the lower legs in the front and anywhere in the back, but of course not the head," said Hamilton Police Capt. Joe Murray
Murray said Tasers are used judiciously and when you consider they get about 70,000 calls for service a year, the department's average of 50 Taser deployments a year isn't very high.
Likewise, Fairfield Police Chief Mike Dickey said they avoid the sensitive areas because they were made aware of the potential danger, but he said the device is still a very effective tool in their arsenal.
"I've not been hit with a Taser, but what I've been told is it's like a full-body Charlie horse...," he said. "If you get hit in the back of the legs you are still going to get a good sensation out of it. The objective of this thing is not to totally incapacitate anybody for a length of time, the idea is you essentially take the wind out of their sails. Most people when they get hit, they are willing to quit fighting right now.... To me it's more preferable than using a baton. Baton's draw blood and leave permanent scars."
There are two wrongful death federal lawsuits in this area that involve the deployment of Tasers. Kevin Piskura died following an altercation an altercation in which he was shot with a Taser outside an Oxford bar in 2008. The Piskura family sued TASER International and the city. They drop their suit against the city, pending the outcome of the products liability case against the manufacturer.
That case is set for trial in April 2013, unless the judge grants the defendant's motion to drop the case. A brief filed in the case states that only one of the two-pronged charge actually penetrated Piskura's skin, making a shock impossible.
The second case was filed against the city of Mason by the family of Douglas Boucher, whose skull was cracked when his head hit the pavement after he was tased at a gas station in 2009.That trial is tentatively set for February 2013.
Middletown Police Maj. Rodney Muterspaw said they have never received any notifications from Taser International about danger zones, and they see no need to revise their policies. The only injuries he said they have encountered have been very minor.
"The only thing we've had is when we've had to pull the prongs out of somebody," he said. "We've had some cuts from where the darts go in, but other than that nothing."
Oxford Police Chief Bob Holzworth said it sounds like their policy mirrors what Cincinnati is now doing. They have changed their policies several times and they especially made changes after the Piskura incident. The newest version of the policy came in December 2009. It follows the recommendations and training manual issued by the manufacturer.
"We are trying to stay current with the best practices," he said. "It's a fantastic tool, it's one that we don't deploy very often, but it's an excellent tool in the right circumstance. We will be very judicious with how we apply this tool, for obvious reasons."
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