WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security's two largest law enforcement divisions have rejected the use of stun guns for about 20,000 agents and officers, largely because of questions about the safety of the devices that emit electrical charges to temporarily incapacitate suspects.
The bans were adopted by the bureaus of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection in internal directives that were issued during the past two years.
ICE rejected the devices in December 2003, spokesman Russ Knocke said.
That was about a month after an officer with the Federal Protective Service, a part of ICE, allegedly was injured during a stun gun training session.
CBP issued its own ban several months later, spokesman Barry Morrissey said.
''There are enough question marks about the safety of this device,'' Morrissey said, citing a recent review by the agency. ''The safety of our officers and the public is always a concern. It was determined that the device just didn't fit.''
The bureaus' acknowledgements of the bans comes at a time when stun guns, which are used by more than 7,000 law enforcement agencies across the United States, are under increasing scrutiny.
Since 1999, more than 80 people have died after being shocked with stun guns, according to reviews by The Arizona Republic and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The Republic has reported that autopsies have linked 11 deaths to stun guns, which also are known as Tasers.
In recent weeks, several civil rights groups, including the SCLC, an interfaith group in Atlanta, have called for a moratorium on the use of stun guns.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police and other law enforcement groups have called for more extensive research into whether stun guns are safe.
Arizona-based Taser International, by far the largest manufacturer of the devices, has vigorously defended the safety of the more than 130,000 Tasers it has sold to police agencies.
''While we understand the concerns of the public concerning the topic of in-custody deaths after Taser usage, there are medical experts who dispute the few cases, out of tens of thousands of lifesaving uses, where a Taser device has been cited as a contributing factor to an in-custody death,'' Taser spokesman Steve said recently in a statement.