June 27, 2007 TASER is set to introduce the latest addition to its range of non-lethal weapons next month. The new Extended Range Electronic Projectile (XREP) is launched from a standard 12-gauge shotgun platform and is the first wireless TASER device. Now well established in the market, TASER stun guns are widely used in law enforcement, military and more recently, consumer applications. Along the way the company has become embroiled in a string of court cases relating to injuries or deaths which were claimed to be caused by the device and has released a special white paper on the topic ahead of the XERP launch. Though we cannot think of a situation where it would not be preferable to respond with non-lethal force rather than lethal force, it seems people still wish to take on TASER legally - so far the scoreline reads 51-0.
First demonstrated at the beginning of 2006, the TASER XREP is an electrically-charged wireless shell that is designed to be fired from a 12-gauge shotgun. The half-ounce shell can incapacitate subjects at ranges up to 30 yards – three times farther than the longest range available to a standard TASER stun gun.
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Although it seems obvious that incapacitating a high-risk subject is an infinitely better option than shooting with a conventional weapon, the history of the TASER has not been without controversy. A number of product liability claims have been filed against TASER in the U.S – a subject addressed by the company in a recent “Liability and Litigation” white paper.
In the report the company outline their success in defeating these claims – currently 51 lawsuits have been dismissed with no losses. Citing court decisions that found the use of TASER technology does not per se constitute excessive use of force and police department statistics that consistently show a decrease in suspect injuries for the period and in the use of deadly force, TASER argue that use of the device can reduce the risk of excessive use of force claims and litigation filed against law enforcement agencies and officers.
The white paper also refers to autopsy reports and medical experts which have determined that the cause of in-custody deaths have been due to complications from drug intoxication or pre-existing medical conditions and not from the TASER. This is in line with a paper presented at the 2007 Society for Academic Emergency Medicine (SAEM) Annual Meeting which showed that preliminary results of TASER exposure on healthy (and very brave) human volunteers showed no short-term effects.
Some of the more that 7000 law enforcement agencies which use the TASER are themselves not convinced of the safety of the device. Training incidents and injuries caused when using the weapons have sparked numerous legal claims but TASER argue that pre-existing medical conditions are also behind these incidents. This argument is not universally accepted however, with reports that medical examiners have indeed cited the TASER as the primary cause of death in some instances.
Whether the introduction of the XREP will alter the arguments on either side is unknown, but we will watch with interest as the technology develops and its use becomes more widespread.