Debate over safety of taser-proof vests

Published 21 October 2008

A U.S. body-armor company is selling taser-proof vests to police units; some argue that the vests make officers less safe because taser-toting bad guys would now aim for the officer’s head; the response: this is like arguing that bullet-proof vests make officer less safe because the bad guy would aim for the head

You would think it is a good idea: An Arizona inventor has been granted a patent on his Taser-proof fabric, which he plans to sell to the police to protect officers from bad guys using electric stunguns. Problem is, some argue that protective garments of this sort will in fact endanger policemen’s lives. Greg Schultz’s invention, the Thor Shield fabric, and the controversy surrounding it are described in New Scientist and by the Register’s Lewis Page.

Thor Shield will be distributed by U.S. body-armor maker Point Blank of Pompano, Florida. Tasers use two separate probes to pass a high-voltage current through the body. The probes do not need to touch skin to do so, as the high voltages allow the current to jump across an “air gap” of up to two inches into the body. Note that the taser’s flying probes must be rather widely spaced, or they will short-circuit. To make sure this does not happen, the probes do not fly straight out of the tip of the weapon, but are are angled up and down by four degrees each.

This is where Thor Shield comes in. Since the shield is a much better conductor than a body, the current passes through the foil embedded in the vest instead of through the body. New Scientist talked with Steve Wright, “an expert on non-lethal weapons,” who said that “People armed with Tasers will now aim at the head — the officer may end up blind.”

Page dismisses Wright’s concerns, writing that it would be futile “to try and get two projectiles flying on tracks separated by eight degrees to hit someone’s head. It’s physically impossible at any distance greater than four feet or so, and even inside that range you’d need to be Billy the Kid to avoid missing with at least one of the darts.” He correctly point out that “One might as well say that bulletproof vests make you less safe — you’re a lot more likely to survive a bullet wound to the body than one to the head.”