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Taser Use Increases, Questions Arise

November 10, 2011 (CBS News)

A National Institute of Justice study concludes some police are going to their Tasers to subdue suspects “way too fast,” causing unnecessary pain and, in some cases, death. Correspondent David Martin takes a look at the hottest new tool in the police officer’s belt that is now being used by 16,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S. Martin’s report will be broadcast on “60 Minutes” Sunday, Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

Geoffrey Alpert, professor at the University South Carolina’s Criminology and Criminal Justice Department, wrote the study. He says the infamous incident of the “Don’t Tase me bro” Florida college student is the perfect example of a Taser-happy police officer. “If those officers couldn’t control him without using a Taser, they need to be retrained…to be disciplined,” he tells Martin. “Some are using them way too fast."

In another incident, also caught on videotape like the Florida student’s, a disgruntled employee of a supermarket died after being hit with a Taser – an extremely rare occurrence. In this case, however, the police officer can be seen on the videotape with his Taser drawn before he even encounters the suspect. A jury awarded the man’s family $10 million in a case TASER International is appealing.

The Las Vegas Police Department was among the first to employ the Taser. Officers there used the weapon twice as much in 2004 as they do now. Marcus Martin, the department’s Taser trainer, agrees that officers may have used their Taser too quickly early on. “But that’s the same with any tool that comes along…we have to go back and train that out of those officers,” says Marcus, who has full faith in the Taser. “It’s changed the face of police work forever.”

Approximately 500,000 officers in the U.S. carry a Taser. Nearly one and a half million suspects have been Tased by authorities and of that amount, 485 have died afterwards. But TASER International claims that only 20 of those could be argued to have been caused directly by the weapon; the rest were linked to other causes, like cocaine intoxication, the company says.

Since Tasers came into use, the number of suspects brought to the hospital after their arrest has been down each year. Fewer officers are injured making arrests also. Says Marcus, “The truth…this person is alive today and that person is alive today or this police officer is not harmed today, because of this less-than-lethal device.”

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