In an interview with www.thejusticegap.com, the national lead for the police force on armed policing, raised the prospect of every officer being kitted out with a Taser weapon. ‘If you talk to the average police officer on the ground they will say: “We want all to be issued with Taser for our own protection, and to protect the public”,’ said Simon Chesterman, deputy chief constable of West Mercia Police.

  • ‘Shocking Britain’ is a documentary made by Matt Spencer for www.thejusticegap.com
  • Pics from Flickr, under Creative Comms (Trojan631)

As of last year, there were 14,700 officers trained to use Taser in the UK – see Alastair Logan OBE (Tasers: the ‘non-lethal’ weapon reckoned to have caused more than 500 deaths). As Andy Harding, the Association of Chief Police Officers’ lead on Tasers, pointed out in the documentary, eight out of 10 times a Taser is ‘used’ it brings a resolution to a situation without the need for the device being fired.

During a Taser refresher course with the London Metropolitan Police (filmed exclusively for the www.thejusticegap.com), constable Phil Munt said: ‘There’s been a couple of situations where if we didn’t have Taser the person we were dealing with would have probably been CS’d or batoned. Having the Taser meant that nobody had to touch them. We could deal with it at a safe distance, and nobody got hurt.’

 Taser 2 (From Flickr, crative comms Trojan631)

Taser: a non-lethal weapon?
However US reports, where Taser is much more readily available to police officers, show that there have been over 500 Taser-related deaths – nine out of 10 of those involved situations where the person being Tasered was either not armed or did not pose a life threatening situation. In the UK, there have been 10 such Taser-related deaths, seven of which have been investigated by the IPCC and found no direct link that Taser was the cause of death.

UK cases include 10 deaths which have occurred in the aftermath of the victim being tasered, the latest one being a man in Plymouth who was tasered after police had been called because he was about to commit suicide by setting himself alight. The use of the taser ignited the petrol he had poured over himself.
Alastair Logan

‘It would be impossible for anybody to turn round and say that Taser is 100% safe,’ said Andy Harding. ‘The reason being that when we’re using force there is no such thing as a 100% safe option, all options that we have carry some form of risk.’

Amnesty UK accepts the benefits of using Taser in situations where there is an imminent threat to life. However the human rights group’s policing and arms control expert, Olly Sprague cites the case of Colin Farmer, a blind man who was tasered on suspicion of carrying a Samurai sword which was later found to be his white stick.

‘If the Taser is used at that high level of threshold then the officer can always justify it,’ Sprague says. ‘When it becomes more tricky is when it is used lower down on the threshold of serious injury and then it becomes more of a compliance issue.’

‘Unfortunately because Taser is an electroshock weapon – it leaves few physical marks – and because it inflicts severe pain at the flick of a switch, it can be misused as a tool for pain compliance and it is utterly wrong.’
Olly Sprague, Amnesty

 

taser (from Flickr, creative comms, Trojan631)

What next?
Currently being looked into by the Association of Chief Police Officers are two new models of Taser: the X2 and the X26p. The latter being the same size, weight and style as the current X26c model used in the UK. The difference being that the X26p has an increased memory/recording system which should make officers using Taser more accountable for their actions.

The X2 has two cartridges aimed to deal with the perceived difficulties of using the present model – in particular, slow and complicated reloads. ‘The opportunity to fire it twice is reasonably attractive, but we’re just looking at the technology now to see if it’s fit for purpose,’ commented Simon Chesterman.

The X26p was the favoured choice at London Met’s training course because it was hoped that increases in information recorded would cut down on having to rely upon officers’ own note-taking.

The fact that the X2 can fire two cartridges will cause concern. ‘In the end, it comes down to how these weapons are going to be used,’ Amnesty’s Olly Sprague said. ‘We are concerned that the justification for Taser, the rules that say when you can and when you can’t use Taser, are not sufficiently clear.’

As the Met’s Andy Harding put it: ‘I couldn’t tell you here and now that there is a set criteria for officers to get to before they actually pull the Taser out, it is down to the individual to justify how they have done it.’

Profile photo of Matt Spencer About Matt Spencer
Matt is a journalism student at Winchester University

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7 Comments

  • Jack Dees March 19, 2014 9:14 pm

    When taser was introduced the media was awash with doom and gloom about fatal consequences. 10 years on, no fatalities. Give it up guys. if you thnk you can equate UK cops attitude with weapons to that of the US I suggest you improve your research or spend some time in the US.

    • Alastair Logan March 24, 2014 12:44 pm

      Not so. See: http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/usa-stricter-limits-urged-deaths-following-police-taser-use-reach-500-2012-02-15
      The tally is much higher as those figures are as at 2012 and do not include deaths in any jurisdiction other than the USA.
      Robert Dziekański, an unarmed man, whose death, in 2010 after being repeatedly tasered by RCMP officers was designated homicide, was the 16th death attributed to tasers in Canada.
      An Australian coroner said officers acted like schoolboys in “Lord Of The Flies” when they repeated tasered Roberto Laudisio Curti, an unarmed man. The New South Wales coroner said it was “impossible to believe that he would have died but for the actions of police”. The homicide of Mr Curti has been referred to an independent Inquiry and the death caused an immediate review of the criteria for use of taser firearms.

  • alastair logan March 23, 2014 5:39 pm

    There are three pressing issues, assuming that Tasers will remain a firearm carried by police officers. The first is that no assessment was made of the effects medical or otherwise, of the use of such weapons before they were introduced. That was true in the USA as it was in the UK and there is no ongoing assessment. Such medical evidence as exists is conflicting and Taser Inc, the manufacturer, has consistently sought to destroy evidence that the use of the weapon is capable of causing injury and death. We should not be using weapons that have not been thoroughly tested and their effects known before they are used on the public. When you realise that Taser Inc accepts that the safest area of the body to target is the back you can then see how suspect the claims that it is safe are. Also why would you shoot someone in the back if you were trying to stop an imminent attack?
    Secondly, there is no regular assessment made of the individual weapon. This is necessary as tests carried out in Canada and Australia have shown that the electrical charge that is delivered can vary enormously between one weapon and another.
    Thirdly, there is no attempt by the police to rank the use of this firearm so that it cannot be used unless there is an imminent and real likelihood of death or injury. By allowing the officer using it to assess the appropriateness of use not only allows use of this firearm as a tool of compliance but also leads, as the reports of use show, to increasing use on children, the elderly, those with mental challenges, those with obvious physical disabilities, people in care homes and secure mental facilities.
    We need to suspend the use of this weapon, described by the UN Committee on Torture as torture, until we have properly assessed its effects, designed a robust test to ensure the weapon does not deliver a greater electric charge than it is claimed to have and have in place a national policy that would prevent its use in all cases save those where objectively there is a real likelihood of death or serious injury with the consequence that officers who use it inappropriately are disciplined.

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  • Peter Smith July 22, 2015 5:45 pm

    SLAP HAPPY USE OF THE TASER SHOULD BE STOPED / THE LAST I HEARD WAS A YOUNG MAN ADMITTED TOO MUCH TO DRINK AND NO DOUBT AWKWARD WITH IT WE HAVE ALL SEEN THIS WAS TAZERED IN HIS CELL AT MELKSHAM POLICE STATION HE WAS FORCED TO STRIP BARE INCLUDING HIS UNDER PANTS OF WHICH HE DID ADMIT HE TOSED THEM AT A OFFICER WHO HAD THE TAZER BEHIND HIS BACK WITH NO WARNING HE WAS TASER’D IN THE CELL WERE TWO OTHER POLICE OFFICERS THE EFECT NOW WILL LAST FOR LIFE HE WAS NOT A BAD LAD WE KNOW OF HIM LOCALY BUT A BIT O T T WITH THREE BIG OFFICERS AND HE WITH NOTHING TO HARM THEM WITH WAS THIS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY?

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