Hitting the target question on a Taser story

Often, a story answers some questions and then leads to a few more.

In January, the Tribune published my story detailing a steep rise in police use of Tasers in the suburbs.   Just after that story ran, I sat down with editors to brainstorm other angles we might pursue.

The topic is ripe for investigation. Since 2000, the Taser – an electroshock device named after the weapon from the teen adventure novel “Tom Swift and his Electric Rifle” – has gone from a little-known less-lethal device to a nearly ubiquitous policing tool used by some 16,900 agencies worldwide, according to its manufacturer, Taser International.  

A 2011 federal study concluded that the weapons, which deliver incapacitating electric shocks, can reduce injuries to officers and arrestees, though the report’s authors wrote that more research is needed to fully understand the potential health risks of a Taser shock. The manufacturer insists the weapons are safe, but Human rights group Amnesty International has counted about 500 deaths following use of an electroshock device in the U.S. since 1990.

In our meeting, the editors and I kept returning to a question – are police shooting at suspects less often now that hundreds more of them carry Tasers? The weapons’ manufacturer has marketed the Taser as a tool to prevent shootings by police. Today’s story explores the weapon’s impact in Chicago, where a dramatic jump in Taser use has not led to a significant drop in shooting incidents.

While this story bubbled up from a conversation with editors, readers often have questions that lead to stories, too. If you have a question or comment about Tasers or another topic we’re covering – or one that we aren’t – you can e-mail me at dhinkel@tribune.com or tribnation@tribune.com.

-- Dan Hinkel

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