Look closely at reports on fatal police shootings, and you may see a phrase more often than you think: "The Taser failed." That's one of the observations from an investigative piece by American Public Media on police Tasers. Manufacturer Axon Enterprise, which has a monopoly on the market, has boasted over the years that its weapons work between 80% and 97% of the time, according to APM. But the investigation finds much lower figures. "Data from some of the largest police departments in the nation reveals that officers rate their Tasers as effective as little as 55% of the time, or just a little better than a coin flip," per the story. What's more, the failed use of the Taser can sometimes make a bad situation worse. APM found that more than 250 fatal police shootings between 2015 and 2017 occurred after a Taser failed to stop a suspect.
In 106 of those shootings, the suspect became more violent after receiving an electrical shock that was supposed to incapacitate. The story details the intricacies of Taser use, including all the factors that go into determining whether a shot is successful—distance, angle, what the suspect is wearing, the power of the jolt, etc.—and it notes that tens of thousands of people, some of whom might have been shot by an officer, are taken into custody each year without injury thanks to Tasers. "Nevertheless, Axon—a publicly traded company—has taken in hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars selling weapons to protect life that work considerably less often than the company has claimed." The company canceled an interview but stood by the weapon as "the most safe and effective less-lethal use of force tool available to law enforcement." Click to read the full story. (Read more Longform stories.)