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Examining Fatal and Nonfatal Incidents Involving the TASER: Identifying Predictors of Suspect Death Reported in the Media

NCJ Number
Criminology & Criminal Justice Volume: 8 Issue: 4 Dated: November 2009 Pages: 865-892
Michael D. White; Justin Ready
Date Published
November 2009
28 pages
Since there has been virtually no empirical analysis of "real-world" fatal and nonfatal TASER cases simultaneously, this study examined all media reports of TASER incidents from 2002 to 2006, comparing incidents in which a fatality occurred with those in which a fatality did not occur, using multivariate analyses that identified incident and suspect characteristics predictive of TASER-proximate deaths.
The study found several suspect characteristics that were significantly associated with media-reported fatal TASER incidents. These suspect characteristics included drug use (but not alcohol), mental illness, and continued resistance after the initial TASER shock. Regarding incident characteristics, multiple uses of the TASER against a suspect was associated with an increased likelihood of a reported fatality, especially if the suspect was emotionally disturbed. This suggests that the risk for multiple shocks may be greater for suspects with strong emotional reactions when confronted by police. Such emotional reactions may also diminish the initial effects of the TASER, causing officers to repeat TASER shocks. Based on these findings, clearly more research is needed on the interactions between mental illness, drug use (illicit or therapeutic), continued suspect resistance, multiple TASER shocks, and an increased risk of death related to TASER incidents. Until such research confirms factors related to an increased risk for TASER-related deaths, police departments should develop polices and training that govern the use of multiple TASER shocks against individuals who exhibit risky physiological and psychological states. Officer training should include recognition of the signs of emotional disorders and drug-induced states in a suspect. The study used LexisNexis and New York Times archives to identify and code TASER incident outcomes as well as suspect and incident characteristics. A logistic regression model was used to identify predictors of TASER-related deaths. 5 tables, 1 figure, and 55 references