Introduction: Conducted electrical weapons (CEWs) are used by some law enforcement agencies to subdue mentally ill subjects who are combative, violent, or suicidal. The use of CEWs in this population is controversial. Proponents advocate CEW use to avoid other forms of escalated force. Opponents advocate against CEW use because of the potential for abuse. What is lacking in the medical literature is documentation of the impact on outcome that this technology may have when used in this population. This project represents an initial report in this area.
Methods: A database of CEW use has been maintained since 1999 to which law enforcement agencies voluntarily report. This database was reviewed for occurrences of CEW use on mentally ill and suicidal subjects. Situation outcome and potential for law enforcement use of deadly force as an alternative were recorded. Data analysis was performed using descriptive statistics.
Results: There were 10,608 reports of CEW use over a 72-month period. Of these, there were 2452 uses on mentally ill subjects; and of these, 1111 (45.3%) were in situations where lethal force by the law enforcement agency would have been justified or where the subject represented an imminent life threat to himself.
Conclusion: The mentally ill represents a significant portion of subjects upon whom CEWs are used. These data suggest frequent use of CEWs in situations where deadly force would otherwise be justified and in situations where subjects exhibit imminent danger to themselves. These data also suggest that escalation to deadly force was avoided in many mental illness and suicidal situations by the presence of a CEW.