On Wednesday, November 6, 2013, The Hamilton County Association of Chiefs of Police issued a report entitled, “Committee Findings for CEWs: A report to provide assistance with the development and creation of policies and procedures for the implementation of conducted electrical weapons within a law enforcement organization.”

The report is the response of the local law enforcement agencies to a Taser white paper Al Gerhardstein issued in 2012 entitled “Taser Risks in Hamilton County.”

The white paper was created on behalf of a community group including the families of two men who died after Taser chest shots.

Overall, Gerhardstein & Branch is encouraged by the Chiefs’ Report. If followed, the Report will cause many of the 39 Hamilton County law enforcement agencies we have been tracking to reform their policies. Here are just three areas where reform seems likely:

  1. Chest Shots. The Report advises law enforcement agencies to follow TASER International’s targeting protocols. TASER recommends training officers NOT to aim for a suspect’s chest because of the risk of cardiac arrest.  Sixty-seven percent of local law enforcement agencies do not presently prohibit chest shots
  2. Testing. The Report says to test Taser units annually, and also after serious incidents. None of the agencies currently require testing.
  3. Investigations. Tasers store data in the handle showing length of trigger pull, time of deployment and other facts. The Report advises agencies to download data after each Taser deployment and collect all the facts about each deployment. Seventy-three percent of the agencies do not presently require downloads

While these recommendations are a step forward, there is still more work to do:

The Report gives a mixed message about the risk of chest shots to the heart. Law enforcement agencies must be careful in this area. TASER International admits that tasers can capture the heart rhythm and cause death. The degree of that risk is not agreed upon, but there is consensus that a risk exists. The Report refers to one death in 2.5 million deployments. But the only deployments likely to cause cardiac injury are chest shots and the Report does not distinguish between Taser deployments to the chest versus other parts of the body.

Currently, there is no system in Hamilton County for capturing the data about adverse outcomes from chest shots. Only once we have that data will we know the risks officers are taking when they take chest shots. That knowledge would reassure the families of Everette Howard and Corey McGinnis who are working to educate officers about the risks they are taking to help prevent other families from losing loved ones.

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