UK Liberty

The Times claims Tasers will be given to all frontline police officers

Posted in law and order by ukliberty on September 18, 2008

Tasers are “electronic control devices” – no, not like a TV remote, more like a gun that delivers electric shocks.  It is a ‘less lethal’ (note, ‘not non-lethal’) alternative to firearms.

The Times:

FRONTLINE police officers across the country are to go on patrol armed with the controversial Taser stun gun under plans to be announced by ministers later this year.

Which is a bit different from the next sentence:

A stockpile of the weapons, which fire a 50,000-volt charge, will be kept at each police station so that patrolling officers can use them if required, Whitehall officials said.

They will be used to confront and disable suspects who threaten violence, whether suspected suicide bombers

Something Sir Ian Blair disagrees with.

or aggressive drunken yobs.

Well, the Home Office says only if “officers are facing violence or threats of violence of such severity that they would need to use force to protect the public, themselves and/or the subject(s) of their action” – i.e. they are still subject to the law on the use of force (they are required to have an honest belief that their use of force was reasonable).

Of course there need be no debate in this wonderful democracy where such things can be deployed merely on the basis of a ministerial decree.

Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, believes using Tasers on thugs and violent criminals will help to protect officers from injury.

Well, so would tanks.  The questions are, have the risks to both the police and ‘thugs’ and ‘criminals’ been weighed up, and is the use of force proportionate, reasonable and, I think, necessary?

…The Taser is a hand-held electrical device resembling a pistol that is designed to incapacitate temporarily rather than injure. The latest version – the X26 – has a range of 21ft. It fires a pair of barbs on copper wires that embed themselves in the flesh and send out an electrical current of 50,000 volts. The shock can cause temporary loss of muscle control, making a person fall to the ground or “freeze” on the spot.

Or it can ‘contribute to death‘.

Police officers believe it is a valuable alternative to hitting people with a baton or the extreme measure of shooting them. In many cases, it enables just one or two officers to restrain and handcuff a suspect without the risk of injury.

Tasers were first issued to trained firearms officers in 2003 after a number of fatal police shootings. Since then they have been drawn 2,700 times but fired only 834 times. In most cases merely drawing the gun and aiming its red target dot on a suspect’s body acted as a sufficient deterrent.

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show Tasers have been used in a range of cases, from a suspect brandishing a samurai sword in Norfolk to a man who tried to strangle a police dog in Kent.

To a man in a diabetic coma, as it says below.

Smith has been impressed by pilot schemes in 10 forces that allow regular officers to fire them. Officially the Home Office said it was awaiting the evaluation of the trials, which ended two weeks ago. Her plans are backed by the Police Federation, which represents all 140,000 rank and file officers in England and Wales.

Concerns remain about the use of the stun guns. In 2005 Nicholas Gaubert, a 34-year-old diabetic from Leeds, was shot twice with a stun gun on a bus after slipping into a coma. Officers mistook him for a suicide bomber after he failed to respond to their commands. Robert Dziekanski, a Polish man, died after being Tasered when he lost his temper at Vancouver airport last year.

The guns cost about £940; figures published this month suggest equipping every officer with one would cost £161m.

Amnesty International said: “The weapon must be restricted to a small number of specially trained officers who should undergo the same rigorous training as firearms officers.”

I have heard the training isn’t quite as rigorous.