A two-year study of taser policies has found that Iowa law enforcement policies on these potentially fatal devices are woefully inadequate in providing clear, dependable guidelines to officers.
The study was conducted by the ACLU of Iowa and the University of Iowa College of Law Clinic. It is based on Open Records Requests sent to all 99 Iowa counties and key municipalities. The report includes a county-by-county chart of taser use policies in each county.
Key findings of the report include:
- Of the counties in Iowa that reported having taser policies, only eight (less than 10 percent) outright prohibit the use of a taser on a woman known to be pregnant.
- Only one policy prohibits tasing an elderly Iowan.
- Only 2 percent prohibit the use of tasers on young children.
- Only seven policies prohibit tasing a person who is already restrained.
"Taser policies in Iowa show profound variation and lack of consistency in regulating officer behavior," said ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis. "Some are far better than others, but no single policy in the state is adequate."
Nathan Miller, an assistant director of the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights and professor in the College of Law legal clinic, says "The risks inherent in taser use demand careful and uniform regulation in Iowa. However, no law in our state requires comprehensive uniform policies or governs the content of taser training and reporting."
Vulnerable Iowans Not Protected
Many policies did not provide any mention of vulnerable populations with known health and safety risks from tasers; of those policies that did, most failed to adequately protect those vulnerable Iowans, who include:
- The elderly
- Young children and people with low body weight
- Pregnant women
- Individuals with so-called "excited delirium" as a result of substance abuse
- People who are already restrained
- People who have already been tased (because the risk of medical harm and risk of death increase with multiple tases)
- People with mental health problems
- People with seizure disorders and other medical conditions that prevent their compliance with police.
Linked to Two Deaths
In Iowa, at least two people have died immediately after law enforcement used tasers on them. Nationally, since 2001, at least 500 people have died from the use of tasers, according to Amnesty International.
More than 265 Iowa law enforcement agencies are currently using tasers, and that number is on the rise. State agents under the jurisdiction of the Iowa Department of Public Safety will soon also carry tasers.
Only five policies in Iowa prohibit the use of tasers on sensitive body parts. These sensitive body parts are the head, face, eyes (where tasers can cause neurological damage and permanent damage including blindness), and genitals and female breasts (where tasers cause permanent damage to the structure and function of the body).
The use of tasers on sensitive body parts was allowed with some restriction by 35 policies; 29 policies make no mention of these most sensitive body parts, providing no information, guidance, or rules for officers.
Lack of Consensus on Use of Force
The report finds a troubling lack of uniformity or consensus about placement of a taser on the use-of-force spectrum, which law enforcement uses to specify how much physical force may be reasonably used on a person.
- For example, at least one policy places tasers on the same place in the spectrum as "soft hands."
- At least four policies place tasers in between "soft hands" and "hard hands.
- At least seven place them between "hard hands" and "chemical weapons.
- At least 16 policies list them as equivalent to "chemical weapons.
- At least five place tasers between "chemical weapons" and "lethal weapons."