Amnesty International's concerns about Tasers
A Taser gun and its bullets are on display 09 October 2007 at France's Milipol global security trade fair at the Porte de Versailles exposition centre in Paris, shows bullets ... JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images
What is a "TASER"?
“TASER” is the brand name for one of a number of weapons within the general category of Conducted Energy Devices (CEDs).
CEDs are high voltage, low current electrical weapons designed to cause temporary incapacitation through involuntary muscular disruption. They include traditional stun guns and projectile weapons. In North America the most common weapons are TASERS® and Stinger® Handheld Projectile Stun Guns.
TASERs can be used in both drive stun mode (directly touching the person) and dart-firing mode.
In Canada it is illegal for anyone other than authorized police officers to possess or use CEDs.
Amnesty International's concerns:
Amnesty International is concerned about both deaths following use of TASERs and reports of excessive use of force involving TASERs.
The device has been widely deployed without the necessary independent information to establish genuine safety parameters. This is in stark contrast to other police equipment, such as pepper spray, for which the safety parameters are well established and there are a number of intensity options within this category alone to choose from.
International human rights standards on the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials support the development of a range of use of force options. The goal should be to use the least amount of force necessary in any given situation. The use of force decisions made by police in what are often very challenging and difficult circumstances need to be well informed decisions. Amnesty International supports the development of “less-lethal" force options to decrease the risk of death or injury inherent in police use of firearms or other impact weapons such as batons.
However, Amnesty International has serious concerns about the use of electro-shock devices in general, both in terms of their safety and their potential for misuse. Portable and easy to use, with the capacity to inflict severe pain at the push of a button without leaving substantial marks, electro-shock weapons are particularly open to abuse. Amnesty International has documented numerous cases of serious abuses involving electro-shock weapons around the world.
There may be “stand-off” situations where TASERs in dart-firing mode could effectively be used as an alternative to firearms to save lives. However, the potential to use TASERs in drive-stun mode – where they are used as “pain compliance” tools when individuals are already effectively in custody – and the capacity to inflict multiple and prolonged shocks, renders the weapons inherently open to abuse.
Amnesty International’s position on TASERs and CEDs:
Amnesty International calls on all governments and law enforcement agencies to either cease using TASERs and similar devices pending the results of thorough, independent studies, or restrict their use to situations where officers would otherwise be justified in resorting to deadly force where no lesser alternatives are available.
Our additional recommendations include:
- Governments should establish benchmarks for the safety of conducted energy devices based on empirical research and should regulate the marketing of such devices appropriately.
- TASERs should be recognized as potentially lethal, particularly for people suffering heart or breathing problems, and their recommended use restricted to a high threshold – that of preventing use of recourse to firearms in response to a threat of violence.
- TASERs should not be used as a routine weapon to enforce compliance in the absence of a threat of serious injury or death of the subject, a member of the public or a law enforcement officer.
- Clear terms of reference for the use of conducted energy devices should be disseminated to all forces using such weapons.
- TASERs should not be used by untrained officers.
- TASERs should not be exported to countries having a record of torture or other ill-treatment.
Updated: 17 December 2008