A National Institute of Justice study last year found that the weapons are safe in the vast majority of cases but also said that more research is needed to determine the health effects of shocking small children and others, such as the elderly.
Steve Tuttle, a Taser International spokesman, said the number of law enforcement agencies that have given Tasers to officers who work on school campuses has grown to well over 4,000. He said the weapons are invaluable for officers dealing with intruders on campus, breaking up brawls or subduing violent students.
"If you've got a 17-year-old or a 13-year-old with a knife in their hands, it really doesn't change the [risks] to the police officer," Tuttle said. "Most parents would highly object to a baton strike to their son or daughter."
But incidents involving children zapped by police have drawn criticism.
In Florida, the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People complained in 2004 after Miami-Dade police shocked children in two unrelated incidents. A 12-year-old truant was stunned as she ran from an officer into traffic. And a 6-year-old student was shot with a Taser after he injured himself on broken glass and refused to drop a piece of glass.
The police department reprimanded the officer who stunned the 12-year-old but found that the officers in the case of the younger boy complied with the agency's rules. Three years ago, several Florida state senators unsuccessfully proposed a ban on police using Tasers on schoolchildren under 16.
And in California, Orange County sheriff's deputies came under criticism in 2007 for stunning a 15-year-old autistic boy who had run away from his parents.
"The risks of using a Taser on a child are just not understood well enough at this point to justify their use," said Hector Villagra, director of the Orange County office of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.
Villagra earlier this year urged the Orange County department to restrict its use of Tasers.
But deputies said they fired the device to protect the teen and motorists from harm when he dashed into traffic. The boy, who was 5 feet 10 and had a beard, looked older than 15, according to his mother, who also said the deputies' response was too aggressive.