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Taser maker issues advisory
Chest shots should be avoided
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Hall County Sheriff’s Lt. Michael Myers, the department’s training director, demonstrates the use of a Taser. - photo by Tom Reed
The foil-covered targets used by law enforcement agencies for the trademarked Taser-brand electric shock guns have a bull’s-eye on the chest area of a human silhouette.

They’ll have to move the bull’s-eye.

This month Taser International, which supplies the devices to thousands of law enforcement agencies across the country, including several local departments, issued a training bulletin advising departments to avoid firing shots to the chest.

Most Taser guns used by law enforcement fire two metal “probes” attached to wires that carry 50,000 volts of electricity — enough shocking power to cause muscle spasms that temporarily incapacitate most people. About 70 Hall County deputies are armed with the devices, and Gainesville police have about 40 Tasers.

Taser International, which has been the subject of litigation over claims its devices can cause heart attacks, said the “preferred target zone” was changed less over safety concerns and more for “risk management” — a term that generally means avoiding lawsuits.

Taser maintains that the risks of its devices causing ventricular fibrillation that is often the hallmark of heart attacks is “extremely rare.”

“The recent release of our training bulletin should not be interpreted as a significant change in how our products should be used,” the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company said in a statement.

“The recommendations should be viewed as best practices that mitigate risk management issues resulting in more effective deployments while maximizing safety considerations such as avoiding the face, neck and chest/breast shots.”

Hall County Sheriff’s Lt. Michael Myers, who trains deputies on the use of Tasers, said by aiming the double-pronged device to the left and slightly lower, the shots should prove more effective. Ideally, deputies should get one probe in the abdomen and one in the thigh for maximum stopping power, he said.

“You would get a full-body lock-up,” by hitting a person above the belt and below the belt in one shot, he said.

Also, shots aimed at the chest could end up in the collar bone, where there is not a lot of muscle mass where the probes can stick, Myers said.

Myers added that Taser officials aren’t saying chest shots must be absolutely prevented, just avoided as much as possible.

“They understand when you’re dealing with someone who is aggressive and they’re moving around, you can’t always hit in that specific area,” Myers said.

Hall County Sheriff’s Col. Jeff Strickland said the sheriff’s office is in the process of retraining its deputies on proper use of the device, and will also update its policies on Tasers.

Gainesville Police Chief Frank Hooper said his officers also would be undergoing new training based on the company’s recommendations.

The chief called the Taser “an excellent tool” that has “no doubt saved lives when it was able to be utilized as an alternative to deadly force.”

Hall County deputies have been using Tasers since 2002. The first Tasers went into mass production in the mid-1990s. They were developed in the 1970s by former NASA researcher Jack Cover, who dubbed his invention “Taser” as an acronym based on one of his favorite novels, “Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle.”

A former Flowery Branch High School student sued the Hall County Sheriff’s Office after she was shocked by the device during a disturbance at the school in 2006, but that federal lawsuit alleges civil rights violations, not permanent injuries. The suit remains pending.
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