An 11-year-old girl was Tasered this week, after they suspected she was shoplifting groceries from a supermarket. Did the officers go too far?

By Lisa Milbrand
Marietjie/Shutterstock

Since its invention in 1974, the Taser has been promoted as a safer law-enforcement tool—allowing officers to subdue unruly or dangerous suspects with a 50,000-volt pulse of electricity, rather than a life-ending bullet. And that's definitely a good thing.

But what's not so good? It's been used many times against pregnant women and young children, despite the manufacturer's warnings about its use on them and other people at risk of adverse reactions, including the elderly and those with heart conditions.

And the most recent controversy comes from Cincinnati, where officers used it against an 11-year-old girl who was suspected of shoplifting groceries into her backpack—and who ran away when confronted by the police. While the Cincinnati police department is investigating the incident, the department's own policy currently allows using Tasers on kids as young as seven. Cincinnati Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman just announced that they will amend this policy to raise the age to 12.

What Tasers Do

The Taser overrides the person's nervous system, causing pain and contracting their muscles, rendering them unable to move. And studies have shown that they can impair the person's mental functioning temporarily, similar to dementia, for at least an hour after the initial shock. Of course, that study was done on healthy young adults—and other research indicates that children are at greater risk of damage to their major organs, brain, or eyes if they are tased than the average adult. Tasers have factored in the deaths of more than 1,000 people, according to a Reuters special report. In pregnant women, Tasers may impact the fetus, causing miscarriage or issues with the baby. One mother who was Tasered is is suing the police department who Tased her, after her baby was born with a seizure disorder.

Taser Use on Kids

The concerns of the safety of using Tasers on kids hasn't stopped police worldwide from using them against young children. A report issued to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child by a UK watchdog group found that in a 22-month span, 29 of the 43 police forces who provided information Tased children nearly 600 times, including 73 times against children under 14. And there have been several other stories of children in the U.S. being Tased, including an eight-year-old girl who was allegedly attempting suicide in South Dakota, and recently, a 12-year-old boy in Pittsburgh.

But the UN Committee Against Torture declared that Tasers could be considered torture back in 2007. So perhaps this shouldn't be a tool to use against kids—except in the most extreme, violent situations. Certainly not when it's just a young girl shoplifting groceries, and fleeing from police, not fighting them.

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