Tasers, the ubiquitous electrical stunning device worn on the belts of an estimated 400,000 U.S. police officers, including some in Galveston County, made both national and local headlines this week over claims that newer models are failing and putting both officers and the public at risk.
In Baytown, a police officer shot Pamela Taylor, 44, five times with a handgun after having fired a Taser, according to reports. Taylor, who was wanted on warrants, had pulled the officer’s Taser away from him and was attempting to strike him with it, despite the officer’s attempt to incapacitate her with the device, a police spokesman said. She died at the scene.
Houston police officers have complained the model of Taser that department uses lacks the power to incapacitate suspects, according to reports by American Public Media, which conducted a national investigation.
Police officers in Los Angeles have complained that the newer model they carry, also carried by many Houston officers, is less effective than previous models, according to the investigation.
At issue are the X26P and X2 Taser models, both of which deliver lower electrical charges than the original X26 Taser, according to the investigation.
Taser manufacturer Axon Enterprises Inc. argues its products are 90 percent effective, despite changes since 2009 that decreased the electrical charge they deliver.
“Tasers are the most studied less lethal tool on an officer’s belt,” Axon officials said in the statement issued in response to the investigation.
“These studies, along with nearly 4 million field deployments over 25 years, establish they are the most safe and effective less-lethal use of force tool available to law enforcement.”
Two area police departments, Galveston and Texas City, said this week they use the Taser model X26P, an upgrade from the model X26 they purchased when they first equipped their officers with Tasers in the early 2000s.
Neither department had noticed any drop in performance with the newer models, representatives said.
For a Taser charge to work, two probes shot from the device must make contact with the desired target at a proper distance of 6 inches apart. If the shot is attempted too close to an intended target, the charge can fail, and if a shot is not precisely aimed and both probes don’t make contact, the charge can fail to achieve its desired effect: incapacitation, Assistant Chief Jess Colwell, of the Texas City Police Department, said.
“Sometimes, it requires a second shot and sometimes it doesn’t,” he said. “Most of the time, when a Taser fails it was deployed incorrectly.”
In Texas City in March, police trying to get a 72-year-old man, accused of resisting arrest, out of his car, deployed a Taser twice because the first attempt didn’t work, according to an affidavit.
Police officers are required to file a Use of Force report every time a Taser is deployed, whether successfully or unsuccessfully, Colwell said.
Galveston Police officers carry the model X26P Taser, said Sgt. Xavier Hancock, spokesman for the department. The department owns 138 of those, which cost about $1,000 each, Hancock said.
Galveston’s department originally purchased X26 models and began an upgrade to X26P in 2010.
“They seem to function the same,” Hancock said.
Texas City owns about 45 Tasers, Colwell said. He estimated that for the X26P upgraded units, all of the equipment required for an officer to carry the Taser — the gun, batteries and a holster — cost about $1,400 each.
Axon, a publicly traded company, reported $420 million in sales in 2018 with $253 million from sale of Tasers. The company’s biggest increase in sales in recent years has been from body cameras and data storage plans, according to the investigation.
Tasers were designed to prevent injury both to officers and the people they are attempting to arrest, Colwell said.
“Overall, I believe using them has greatly reduced injuries to both,” he said. “It avoids closer physical contact with body parts or whatever other weapon is at hand that can cause more damage.
“If you’re a bad guy and you see that an officer has a Taser, you’re less likely to resist arrest.”