As Chicago Police Department Buys More Tasers, a Chicago Study Finds Potential Harm in Taser Use


Chicago, as we've reported before, is one of the most notorious cities in the United States when it comes to police brutality and excessive force among its officers.

The numbers back up the popular perception of the Chicago Police Department across the country as well, as we reported in a 2007 roundup article on Chicago police brutality. In a period from 2002 to 2004, 10,000 complaints were lodged against the CPD, according to official record; in a study that compares those numbers to other complaints received in various major cities across the United States, it was shown that the CPD receives 40% more complaints than the national average.

And now, the Chicago Police Department is putting in a bid to increase its stock of Tasers in use by nearly 1000%. Currently the CPD employs around 350 Tasers, but is seeking bids to acquire 2,500 more, according to a news report in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Police spokeswoman Monique Bond portrayed the department as enthusiastic about the coming purchase, and stated matter-of-factly that the CPD views Tasers as "a less-than-lethal option." The news report also indicated that the police departments Tasers were used 181 times in 2006, the most recent year for which data was available.

However, a local expert on Taser use is not as sure as the police department about the support of Taser use for civilians in arrest situations. Dr. Andrew Dennis is a trauma surgeon at Stroger Hospital in Cook County and also works as a part-time police officer in the city of Des Plaines.

Along with others in the Cook County trauma unit, Dennis conducted a study of the effects of Tasers on pigs. The group conducted a controlled experiment that sought to replicate typical Taser use by police officers by using the Tasers to shock 11 pigs with 40-second electrical bursts, then waiting 10 seconds and using another 40-second shock. (Compare these time lengths with the consumer Taser sold by Taser International, which has a cartridge that delivers a shock for up to 50 seconds.)

According to their findings, the Taser caused "significant rhythm problems" and as a result of being shocked, two pigs died of ventricular fibrillation. In some of the studies that the group conducted, the location where the barbs of the Taser hit the victim affected the heart rhythm.

Dennis warned in an interview with the Sun-Times that he was not "anti-Taser" or against them completely. He would like, however, to provide a word of caution for those who would use them because of their connection to personal injuries.

Unlike what police officers are told, or at least suggested by their training, is that "it cannot hurt anyone, and that's not true," Dennis said." I think the potential for harm is small, but it does exist."

Dennis continues that he believes these reservations should not mean that the Taser should come off the market, but rather that officers and others who use Tasers should have better education about the risks involved in using Tasers on humans.

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