William P. Bozeman, M.D., lead researcher, said, “This is only the second study to document the heart rhythm before, during and after a Taser application. It’s important because of ongoing concern that the Taser may affect the heart, but we found no adverse cardiac affects or rhythm changes.”
The study titled, “Immediate cardiovascular effects of the Taser X26 conducted electrical weapon,” appears in the current issue of Emergency Medicine Journal, which is part of the British Medical Journal group of publications. The study was funded in full by the Wake Forest University Department of Emergency Medicine.
Taser is a brand name for a type of conducted electrical weapon (CEW) that fires two sharp metal probes delivering 19 electrical pulses per second.
Police officers from the Raleigh Police Department participated in the study. Each volunteer officer underwent three separate Taser exposures as part of their training and testing process. Continuous electrocardiogram (ECG) monitoring was performed before, during and after each exposure. Vital signs were measured at rest before and immediately after each exposure. A total of 84 CEW exposures were monitored among 28 subjects (24 men and four women) with an average age of 34.
Bozeman said that from a clinical perspective, he and fellow researchers were looking for sustained cardiac affects beyond the electrical shock, but did not observe any. “Overall, CEW exposure appears to be safe and well tolerated from a cardiovascular standpoint in this population,” Bozeman said.
This latest study, said Bozeman, “joins a large and growing body of literature that demonstrates the physiological response and overall effects of Tasers in human beings. It increases the cumulative human subject experience of carefully monitored CEW exposure and gives us additional scientific data on the safety of these devices.”
An estimated 12,000 of the nation’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies use CEW devices. Bozeman said their use has been associated with decreased injury rates in both officers and suspects, and injuries associated with their use are typically minor. In early 2008, Bozeman completed the largest independent study of injuries after CEW, finding that serious injuries occurred in less than 1 percent of 1,201 uses by law enforcement officers. Those findings represented a three-year review of CEW use at six law enforcement agencies across the United States. The study was funded by the National Institute of Justice.
While this research shows that Tasers appear to be safe, Bozeman still cautions that they need to be used appropriately by trained officers. He likens the use of CEWs to that of automobile air bags, which are proven to be highly beneficial in terms of reducing injuries and fatalities due to automobile accidents, but also pose a small risk of producing serious injury themselves.
“While serious injuries from Taser are uncommon, they are not unheard of,” Bozeman said. “However, the overall balance of risks versus benefits weighs heavily in favor of their use in the right situation.”
Bozeman also states in a letter to the editor accepted be published in an upcoming issue of Annals of Emergency Medicine that “accumulating safety evidence from carefully monitored field experience clarifies the potential risks of CEWs and continues to support their overall safety.”
Co-authors of the study were D.G. Barnes Jr., M.D., J.E. (Tripp) Winslow III, M.D., R.L. Alson, M.D., J.C. Johnson III, P.A., all of Wake Forest University, and C.H. Phillips, E.M.T.-P, of Forsyth County Emergency Medical Services. Bozeman said the Raleigh Police Department volunteers and training staff were crucial to the study’s success.
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center (www.wfubmc.edu) is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital, Brenner Children’s Hospital, Wake Forest University Physicians, and Wake Forest University Health Sciences, which operates the university’s School of Medicine and Piedmont Triad Research Park. The system comprises 1,056 acute care, rehabilitation and long-term care beds and has been ranked as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” by U.S. News & World Report since 1993. Wake Forest Baptist is ranked 32nd in the nation by America’s Top Doctors for the number of its doctors considered best by their peers. The institution ranks in the top third in funding by the National Institutes of Health and fourth in the Southeast in revenues from its licensed intellectual property.