Many police departments have deployed conducted electrical weapons because they can subdue suspects with less risk of injury or death in the process, but in recent years the number of deaths attributed to CEW use has raised concern about their safety.
Researchers at Wake Forest University modified a Taser brand CEW to record heart rate and rhythm when deployed, with the hope deaths due to the weapons can be minimized, according to a proof-of-concept study published in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine.
Stun guns are generally considered the “safe” option for police officers who need to subdue a person, though a sharp rise in deaths has citizens and police concerned. Though deaths related to the weapons often involve other factors, such as pre-existing medical conditions or drug use, there is some concer they can cause cardiac rhythm disturbances.
CEWs deliver a charge one of two ways: an electrical current meant to cause pain, which is delivered by holding the device against a person, and a current delivered from a distance using two wires that penetrate the skin.
The wires used by the devices, researchers say, are similar to those that track and record heart information on electrocardiogram machines.
For the study, Wake Forest researchers modified a Taser to transmit ECG signals, testing their version of the device on an ECG generator and with human volunteers.
After the simulation using a generator was successful, the researchers found volunteers could be successfully incapacitated while ECG signals were recorded at the same time.
“This serves as proof-of-concept that safety measures such as cardiac biomonitoring can be incorporated into CEWs and possibly other law enforcement devices,” Dr. William Bozeman, a professor of emergency medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Hospital, said in a press release. “Such devices, when fully developed, could alert law enforcement personnel to potential medical issues in real time and promote the rapid treatment of individuals who may suffer a medical crisis while in custody.”