Taser’s Secret Millions

Despite the original claims by Taser International that its weapon of choice was non-lethal, the trail of dead bodies it left behind really screwed with the advertising budget.  Not even their own special cause of death did the trick.  What else could Taser do?

Via The Verge:

On the day before Thanksgiving this year, international stun gun and cop-cam company Taser International, Inc. announced it had given up its fight in two major legal battles over “suspect injury or death.” In a 275-word statement submitted to the US Securities and Exchange Commission, the company’s chief financial officer said it would pay a total of $2.3 million in settlements to plaintiffs who had sued the company in product liability cases.

This was rare. Taser prides itself in fighting to the bitter end in any case alleging that its products do anything but save lives. Yet there it was in a financial disclosure — Taser backing down.

Not only does Taser fight, but it aggressively defends itself wherever criticism appears, including here.  But money talks.

According to the vaguely worded statement, enhanced “risk management procedures” and “revisions to product warnings” in 2009 corrected a legal vulnerability. The $2.3 million payouts would address the last lawsuits tied to that vulnerability; they would amount to housekeeping — cleaning up lingering messes that had remained on the company’s books since before 2009.

A payout of $2.3 million isn’t exactly a crippling figure, but it’s still an admission that Tasers can kill. Not everyone, and not under any circumstance, but the dead tell no lies, not even when the death is attributed to “excited delirium” (“a euphemism for ‘death by Taser’“).

That this payout appears in its 8-K filing is significant given that Taser’s settlements have included non-disclosures, and certainly Taser isn’t saying anything.  But while Taser may try everything possible to conceal the obvious, it’s not just a fruitless effort but counterproductive.  So, Tasers can kill. This isn’t exactly breaking news.

For years, Taser has battled in court to show that its electronic control devices — its ECDs such as the X2 and the X26 — cannot kill. But if its recent settlements are any indication, the company may either be slowly backing away from that premise, or at least attempting to draw a line in time after which the company feels it’s no longer liable for someone’s death.

Regarding that: letters to medical journals and plenty of anecdotal evidence have suggested at least since 2005 that even healthy people could suffer cardiac arrest if shot near the heart with Taser’s “non-lethal” ECDs. By September, 2009, Taser changed its product warnings accordingly. Today, Taser’s ECDs are branded as “less lethal” instead of “non lethal,” and its training materials warn that “exposure in the chest area near the heart … could lead to cardiac arrest.”

Rather than hide from the consequences of a tasing, Taser would do better to embrace the limitations of the weapon, which has long been known to be “less-than-lethal” rather than “non-lethal” when used properly.  You see (at the risk of heresy), Tasers are not evil. In fact, Tasers are a good thing, a tool which can save lives and minimize harm when used under the right conditions.  Yes, I said it.

Like all tools, they’re only as good as the people who use them, and as Tasers became a common tool on a cop’s belt, they quickly became a substitute for thinking.  A guy talks back? Tase him. A guy doesn’t drop fast enough? Tase him. A handcuffed girl tries to run away? Tase her. A guy just won’t listen. See, that’s not what a Taser is for.

Tasers are force.  Tasers are painful. Tasers can kill, whether because of the Taser itself, the circumstances under which it’s used or a combination of factors, but the reality is that a Taser is the use of force, and should never be used when force isn’t necessary and justified. And that’s where Taser International went very wrong.

Its promotion, that Tasers were non-lethal, was false, but led to a culture of use because it was a quick, easy, lazy means of bringing an incident to a close. And though it was painful (this is going to hurt you more than me, my child), there would be no long term harm. No harm, no foul.  So rather than some fat cop having to run down a perp, where he could get the very painful turf toe, he whipped out his Taser. Easy-squeasy, unless the perp dropped dead. Oops.

Still, Tasers’ utility exists. Far better to incapacitate with a Taser than plug a guy with a weapon with a Glock.  Even though a Taser may involve risk, both of pain and of death, the risk is far lower than a handgun to a defendant, and there is a far greater chance that everyone survives until suppertime.  It may not be non-lethal, but it has its definite uses, and those uses help to save lives.

Had Taser not promoted its tool (well, weapon, but let’s not get hung up on semantics) falsely as non-lethal, there is a much better chance that its use wouldn’t be as pervasive and mindless as it is today. Tasers are used thoughtlessly, mindlessly and inappropriately, and it happens all the time.  The fault isn’t with the Taser, but the person using the Taser.  And to a great extent, the reason the person using the Taser does so inappropriately is that Taser International marketed it as a quick fix that does no harm.

It’s not too late for Taser to undo the damage.  It’s a big company, and Tasers are sufficiently ubiquitous that it doesn’t need to fear police departments across the country cancelling their orders. But rather than spend all that money trying to deceive the public into believing that a quick tasing is no worse than under-filled jelly donuts, it can be used to retrain police to pull a Taser only when use of force is required and legally justified.

A Taser is a weapon. If only Taser International will admit the truth and fix its screw-up, it might not be the target of such disgust and it might be able to save a few million in secret payouts.  And we can all enjoy some excited delirium.

H/T FritzMuffknuckle