New Reports Stress Taser’s Safety & Effectiveness

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Part 1 of a 2-Part Series

Just as recent reports from a major sheriff’s department and a large insurer of law enforcement agencies are describing the Taser as one of the safest and most effective subject-control tools in the street cop’s arsenal, police use of the device is coming under renewed attack by civil liberties activists.

In a 1-2 assault, the ACLU chapter in the San Francisco Bay area has issued a scathing 25-page report calling for a legislative ban on Taser use “except as a last alternative to firing a gun,” while lawyers working with the ACLU in Nevada have filed a multimillion-dollar federal wrongful death suit against the Las Vegas Metropolitan P.D. and the Taser’s manufacturer in what the ACLU claims was the Taser-related death of a handcuffed suspect.

These moves come on the heels of other recent demands for tightly restricted Taser use or negative appraisals of police Taser policies by ACLU chapters in Hawaii, Texas, Massachusetts and Wisconsin, to name just a few. (As you’ll recall from a previous Force Science News edition [see Transmission, sent 12/10/04], the activist organization Amnesty International has also been highly vocal in alleging the Taser to be an “inhumane” and potentially deadly device, campaigning avidly for a moratorium on its use.)

Meanwhile, a detailed study of Taser applications and effectiveness in actual field experience by the Orange County (FL) S.O. concludes that despite certain limitations the Taser “appears [to] offer police officers a ‘magic bullet’ solution when dealing with many confrontations.” And a “risk management memo” issued by the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust, a prominent liability insurer, includes reassurance to L.E. agencies that Tasers “provide police officers with a safe and effective tool for controlling dangerous behavior and overcoming resistance.”

In stark contrast to the activists’ doom-crying, the Trust says that use of the Taser “has resulted in a considerable reduction of arrest-related injuries to both officers and subjects.” And the sheriff’s study reports that in a single year in Orange County less-lethal Tasers were deployed in 18 incidents where deadly force was fully justified, leading to arrests rather than serious injury or death for the offenders involved.

In this 2-part series, we’ll take an in-depth look at these 2 positive reports, beginning with the analysis of actual street deployment of Tasers in Orange County.

[For a fuller background on the ACLU’s insistence on legislative intervention, you can read its complete report, “Stun Gun Fallacy: How the Lack of Taser Regulation Endangers Lives,” at: https://www.aclunc.org/publications/stun-gun-fallacy-how-lack-taser-regulation-endangers-lives


The Sheriff’s Office study focuses on 400 cases randomly drawn from some 1,200 force confrontations across a 3-year period. Researchers analyzed the nature of resistance by suspects, the responses used by officers and the outcomes of the events in an effort to determine “the effectiveness of less-lethal weapons systems at the officer level,” a subject rarely examined by the academic community.

The research team was led by Dr. Charlie Mesloh, director of the Weapons and Equipment Research Institute at Florida Gulf Coast University, and included Capt. Steven Hougland of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in Orlando, FL.

The findings, reported in the September [2005] issue of the journal “Law Enforcement Executive Forum”, published by the Executive Institute of the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board, include the following:

1. Taser was by far “the most frequently used less-lethal weapon” employed in use-of-force incidents. In this study, it was relied upon to stop suspect resistance in 73% of confrontations, compared to chemical agents at 18%, defensive tactics 6% and impact weapons 3%. Bean bag rounds were used only once, in an encounter involving SWAT.

Interestingly, none of the impact weapon applications involved use of a baton, the researchers discovered. Instead, in each case, “a flashlight was utilized in this function as an improvised impact weapon.”

In assessing the relative unpopularity of less-lethal options other than Taser, the researchers observe:

  • Officers commonly feel that DT techniques taught by their agency are “ineffective against aggressive subjects.” Officers who study martial arts on their own–particularly grappling techniques–seem most likely to apply those skills against resistant subjects.
  • OC, considered “the cutting edge less-lethal weapon of its time,” is plagued by “issues regarding cross-contamination of back-up officers and a growing number of reports that suspects were able to fight through the burning pain.”
  • Baton configuration has changed in recent years, with “high-visibility nightsticks and side-handled batons” having “gone out of style” and been replaced with collapsible straight batons which, in effect, are “little more than a metal club to be used for striking and blocking….[M]any of the advanced control techniques…possible with the PR-24″ are now “difficult if not impossible.”

2. “[I]n all cases in which deadly force would have been sanctioned and a less-lethal weapon was used, Taser was the only weapon selected by officers.” The researchers conclude that “it is clear that a substantial number of suspects’ lives were spared as a result of Taser deployments.”

The research data did not reveal, however, “whether officers made a conscious decision to take a more humane approach” (in avoiding deadly force) or the Taser “was already in hand and the time required to transition [to a gun] was too great.” Regardless, the outcome was strongly to the suspects’ benefit.

3. Officers perceived that Taser is the “only [less-lethal] tool available that has the ability to prevent escape.” Overall, “Taser was used to stop fleeing suspects…84% of the time.” Other less-lethal options, “such as chemical agents and impact weapons, are generally ineffective at stopping a fleeing suspect” due to distance considerations.

Narcotics offenses are the ones most likely to escalate into use-of-force encounters, the study shows, and 63% of narcotics suspects “originally resisted by taking flight.” Across all categories of suspects, “flight was the most common type of resistance” and was encountered nearly one-third of the time.

In terms of active resistance, suspects most often wrestled with or struck officers (27% and 13.5% of resistance respectively). Less than 5% of resistance involved armed suspects threatening or using weapons against officers. Taser was the most frequent less-lethal option used in response to offenders with weapons.

4. A single application of a Taser could not be relied upon to be successful unfailingly. Indeed, Taser was “ineffective” 23% of the time from a single application. However, the researchers point out, “Taser training stresses the use of multiple applications in order to bring a suspect under control.”

When deployed a second time, Taser’s “ineffectiveness dropped to less than 3%.” Then, it was deployed a third time or the officer switched to a different less-lethal option or the suspect escaped, with officers “unprepared to engage in a foot pursuit.”

The study notes that successful escape “occurred more frequently” after a Taser failure, “as officers were accustomed to immediate compliance on the part of the suspect and it is extremely difficult to run with a weapon and drag 21 feet of wire and probes.”

5. Missing when firing a Taser is the greatest cause of failure.

Analyzing 50 cases of Taser failure, the researchers found that missing the subject with both probes accounted for 38% and baggy clothing worn by the suspect caused 32%. Other factors included: probe coming loose, 28%; suspect grabbing the Taser, 2%; unit malfunction, 4%; cartridge fell off, 2%. (Recent Taser improvements have addressed some of the failure problems, the researchers note.)

“A drawback to the Taser is that while the cartridges have an advertised range of 21 feet, it is not feasible to properly deploy the weapon at that distance and expect a successful outcome,” the researchers report. At 18 feet, an average probe spread of about 30 inches is experienced, “which is too great to assume that both probes will hit their target as required for the Taser to be effective.”

Ineffective deployments are “more related to distance factors than the suspect’s ability to fight through electricity,” the study found.

Even with its shortcomings, Taser can be deployed at greater ranges than other less-lethal weapons, which “require the suspect to be in close proximity to the officer.”

In their report, the researchers take note of the action-reaction time lag that often places officers at a disadvantage in responding effectively to suspects’ aggressive behavior. This disadvantage has been well documented in numerous experiments conducted by the Force Science Research Center at Minnesota State University-Mankato.

“Training and experience may reduce reaction times,” the researchers point out, by “inherently cue[ing] officers to furtive movements and pre-assault indicators.” In the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, such cues are considered a level of resistance that allows “officers to deploy the Taser earlier in the confrontation, thereby deescalating the encounter before it matures.”

In summary, the report concludes that “[b]ased on officer interviews and the data, it appears that the Taser offers police officers a ‘magic bullet’ solution when dealing with many confrontations.” And it predicts that with improvements “it is likely that Taser will continue to dominate in less-lethal weapon deployments.”

Regarding the Orange County report, Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Research Center at Minnesota State University-Mankato, says: “This study confirms the general law enforcement experience that the Taser is the most versatile and effective force instrument available to law enforcement to date. It also supports the law enforcement claim that without the Taser officers would be using lethal force more frequently.”

For a full copy of the Law Enforcement Executive Forum article on the Orange County study, contact:

Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board
Executive Institute
1 University Circle
Macomb, IL 61455
(309) 298-2646

The article, entitled “Taser and Less Lethal Weapons: An Exploratory Analysis of Deployments and Effectiveness,” is available in pdf format for $4 and in a hard copy for $10.

[Thanks to Wayne Schmidt, executive director of Americans for Effective Law Enforcement, for bringing the Orange County study to our attention.]

Leave a Reply


  • Privacy Policy

Privacy Policy

Effective date: January 06, 2019

Force Science Institute, Ltd. (“us”, “we”, or “our”) operates the https://www.forcescience.org/ website (hereinafter referred to as the “Service”).

This page informs you of our policies regarding the collection, use, and disclosure of personal data when you use our Service and the choices you have associated with that data. Our Privacy Policy for Force Science Institute, Ltd. is based on the Privacy Policy Template from Privacy Policies.

We use your data to provide and improve the Service. By using the Service, you agree to the collection and use of information in accordance with this policy. Unless otherwise defined in this Privacy Policy, the terms used in this Privacy Policy have the same meanings as in our Terms and Conditions, accessible from https://www.forcescience.org/

Information Collection And Use

We collect several different types of information for various purposes to provide and improve our Service to you.

Types of Data Collected

Personal Data

While using our Service, we may ask you to provide us with certain personally identifiable information that can be used to contact or identify you (“Personal Data”). Personally identifiable information may include, but is not limited to:

  • Email address
  • First name and last name
  • Phone number
  • Address, State, Province, ZIP/Postal code, City
  • Cookies and Usage Data

Usage Data

We may also collect information on how the Service is accessed and used (“Usage Data”). This Usage Data may include information such as your computer’s Internet Protocol address (e.g. IP address), browser type, browser version, the pages of our Service that you visit, the time and date of your visit, the time spent on those pages, unique device identifiers and other diagnostic data.

Tracking & Cookies Data

We use cookies and similar tracking technologies to track the activity on our Service and hold certain information.

Cookies are files with small amount of data which may include an anonymous unique identifier. Cookies are sent to your browser from a website and stored on your device. Tracking technologies also used are beacons, tags, and scripts to collect and track information and to improve and analyze our Service.

You can instruct your browser to refuse all cookies or to indicate when a cookie is being sent. However, if you do not accept cookies, you may not be able to use some portions of our Service. You can learn more how to manage cookies in the Browser Cookies Guide.

Examples of Cookies we use:

  • Session Cookies. We use Session Cookies to operate our Service.
  • Preference Cookies. We use Preference Cookies to remember your preferences and various settings.
  • Security Cookies. We use Security Cookies for security purposes.

Use of Data

Force Science Institute, Ltd. uses the collected data for various purposes:

  • To provide and maintain the Service
  • To notify you about changes to our Service
  • To allow you to participate in interactive features of our Service when you choose to do so
  • To provide customer care and support
  • To provide analysis or valuable information so that we can improve the Service
  • To monitor the usage of the Service
  • To detect, prevent and address technical issues

Transfer Of Data

Your information, including Personal Data, may be transferred to — and maintained on — computers located outside of your state, province, country or other governmental jurisdiction where the data protection laws may differ than those from your jurisdiction.

If you are located outside United States and choose to provide information to us, please note that we transfer the data, including Personal Data, to United States and process it there.

Your consent to this Privacy Policy followed by your submission of such information represents your agreement to that transfer.

Force Science Institute, Ltd. will take all steps reasonably necessary to ensure that your data is treated securely and in accordance with this Privacy Policy and no transfer of your Personal Data will take place to an organization or a country unless there are adequate controls in place including the security of your data and other personal information.

Disclosure Of Data

Legal Requirements

Force Science Institute, Ltd. may disclose your Personal Data in the good faith belief that such action is necessary to:

  • To comply with a legal obligation
  • To protect and defend the rights or property of Force Science Institute, Ltd.
  • To prevent or investigate possible wrongdoing in connection with the Service
  • To protect the personal safety of users of the Service or the public
  • To protect against legal liability

Security Of Data

The security of your data is important to us, but remember that no method of transmission over the Internet, or method of electronic storage is 100% secure. While we strive to use commercially acceptable means to protect your Personal Data, we cannot guarantee its absolute security.

Service Providers

We may employ third party companies and individuals to facilitate our Service (“Service Providers”), to provide the Service on our behalf, to perform Service-related services or to assist us in analyzing how our Service is used.

These third parties have access to your Personal Data only to perform these tasks on our behalf and are obligated not to disclose or use it for any other purpose.


We may use third-party Service Providers to monitor and analyze the use of our Service.

  • Google AnalyticsGoogle Analytics is a web analytics service offered by Google that tracks and reports website traffic. Google uses the data collected to track and monitor the use of our Service. This data is shared with other Google services. Google may use the collected data to contextualize and personalize the ads of its own advertising network.You can opt-out of having made your activity on the Service available to Google Analytics by installing the Google Analytics opt-out browser add-on. The add-on prevents the Google Analytics JavaScript (ga.js, analytics.js, and dc.js) from sharing information with Google Analytics about visits activity.For more information on the privacy practices of Google, please visit the Google Privacy & Terms web page: https://policies.google.com/privacy?hl=en

Links To Other Sites

Our Service may contain links to other sites that are not operated by us. If you click on a third party link, you will be directed to that third party’s site. We strongly advise you to review the Privacy Policy of every site you visit.

We have no control over and assume no responsibility for the content, privacy policies or practices of any third party sites or services.

Children’s Privacy

Our Service does not address anyone under the age of 18 (“Children”).

We do not knowingly collect personally identifiable information from anyone under the age of 18. If you are a parent or guardian and you are aware that your Children has provided us with Personal Data, please contact us. If we become aware that we have collected Personal Data from children without verification of parental consent, we take steps to remove that information from our servers.

Changes To This Privacy Policy

We may update our Privacy Policy from time to time. We will notify you of any changes by posting the new Privacy Policy on this page.

We will let you know via email and/or a prominent notice on our Service, prior to the change becoming effective and update the “effective date” at the top of this Privacy Policy.

You are advised to review this Privacy Policy periodically for any changes. Changes to this Privacy Policy are effective when they are posted on this page.

Contact Us

If you have any questions about this Privacy Policy, please contact us:

  • By email: support@forcescience.org
  • By visiting this page on our website: https://www.forcescience.org/contact
  • By phone number: 866-683-1944
  • By mail: Force Science Institute, Ltd.