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Conductive Electrical Devices: A Prospective, Population-Based Study of the Medical Safety of Law Enforcement Use

Eastman, Alexander L. MD; Metzger, Jeffery C. MD; Pepe, Paul E. MD, MPH; Benitez, Fernando L. MD; Decker, James; Rinnert, Kathy J. MD, MPH; Field, Craig A. PhD, MPH; Friese, Randall S. MD

Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery: June 2008 - Volume 64 - Issue 6 - p 1567-1572
doi: 10.1097/TA.0b013e31817113b9
Original Articles

Background: To examine police compliance with policies for the proper use of conductive electrical devices (CEDs) and, in turn, track any associated medical events following CED application.

Methods: Prospective, population-based, 15-month study of police activations of CEDs after their introduction into the police force of a large U.S. city (residential population, 1.25 million). Local policy for use was consistent with the recommendations of International Association of Chiefs of Police. Data collected included age, sex, predefined rationale for use, target distance, activation duration, total energy delivered, policy compliance, and medical findings or events within the first 12 hours.

Results: Among 426 consecutive CED activations (November 1, 2004 through January 31, 2006), the suspects' mean age (years ± standard deviation) was 30 ± 10 (range, 13–72) years and 90.4% were male. Suspects' mean distance from the officer was 5.0 ± 4.5 feet (range, 0–21). Reasons for use included: evading or resisting arrest (33.3%, n = 142), public intoxication or disorderly conduct (15.8%, n = 76), interrupting a felony in progress (9.3%, n = 45), and interrupting an assault on an officer or public servant (6.0%, n = 29). Mean total duration of exposures was 8.6 ± 5.9 seconds, and total energy delivered per suspect was 227 ± 156 joules. Officers followed policy in all cases and, accordingly, all suspects rapidly received medical evaluation or simple first aid. No suspect required further treatment except one who was later found to have severe toxic hyperthermia and who died within 2 hours of activation despite rapid on-scene intervention. In 5.4% of deployments (n = 23), CED use was deemed to have clearly prevented the use of lethal force by police.

Conclusion: Police were compliant with policy in all cases, and, in addition to avoiding the use of lethal force in a significant number of circumstances, the safety of CED use was demonstrated despite one death subsequently attributed to lethal toxic hyperthermia. Collaborative nationwide research using similar registries is strongly recommended to document compliance and ensure ongoing safety monitoring.

From the Division of Burns, Trauma and Critical Care (A.L.E., C.A.F., R.S.F.), Emergency Medicine Section of EMS (A.L.E., J.C.M., P.E.P., F.L.B., K.J.R.), Disaster Management and Homeland Security; and Department of Surgery (A.L.E., J.C.M., P.E.P., S.J.D.), University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas; and the Dallas Police Department, Dallas, Texas.

Received for publication October 10, 2007.

Accepted for publication February 27, 2008.

Presented at the 37th Annual Meeting of the Western Trauma Association, February 25–March 2, 2007, Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

Address for reprints: Alexander L. Eastman, MD, Department of Surgery, The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, 5323 Harry Hines Blvd MC9159, Dallas, TX 75390-9159; email:

© 2008 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.