Conducted electrical weapon use by law enforcement: an evaluation of safety and injury

Jared Strote, Mimi Walsh, Matthew Angelidis, Amaya Basta, H Range Hutson
Journal of Trauma 2010, 68 (5): 1239-46

INTRODUCTION: Controversy persists over the safety of conducted electrical weapons (CEWs), which are increasingly used by law enforcement agencies around the world. The purpose of this study was to examine injury patterns and physiologic conditions after CEW use under real life conditions.

METHODS: A retrospective, cohort design was used, examining all CEW uses by one police department during a 6-year period. Data were collected from use-of-force forms and medical records and included conditions surrounding the use of force, medical histories, and data from emergency department evaluations and hospital admissions.

RESULTS: Of 1,101 individuals subjected to (Taser M26 and X26) CEW use during the study period, 92.6% were male, the average body mass index was 26.2, and the age range was 9 to 73 years. Of the 886 (80.5%) with medical records, 46.8% had a psychiatric history and 72.9% had a substance abuse history. Emergency department (ED) evaluations occurred for 295 (26.8%) incidents. Of chief complaints, 41.7% were trauma related, 26.8% were for altered mental status, and 21.7% were for psychiatric evaluation. On presentation, 17.6% had a pulse >120, 1.7% were febrile, and 30.9% were altered; 1.4% met criteria associated with "excited delirium." When laboratory workup occurred, 70.6% had positive urine toxicology and 44.8% had positive alcohol levels. Troponin I was positive for one patient. Other laboratory abnormalities were rare, although extensive evaluations were infrequently done. Admission occurred in 24.4% of ED presentations (6.5% of all subjects); of discharge diagnoses for these patients, 59.7% were psychiatric, 22.2% were for unrelated trauma, 11.1% were for restraint-related trauma, and 6.9% were for unrelated medical diagnoses. No patients died.

CONCLUSIONS: Significant injuries related to 6 years of law enforcement CEW use in one city were rare. A large percentage of those subjected to CEW use had diagnoses of substance abuse and/or psychiatric conditions. Most admissions after CEW use were unrelated to law enforcement restraint.

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