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10 Sep, 2013 12:59

Shocking increase: UK police Taser use doubles since 2009

Shocking increase: UK police Taser use doubles since 2009

The use of Taser guns by British police has more than doubled since 2009, sparking concerns among rights groups and the wider public about the device’s potentially lethal outcome and its frequently improper use by under-trained police personnel.

According to numbers by the Office for National Statistic released on Tuesday, officers fired the weapon 3,500 in 2009, against more than 7,000 times in subsequent years.

Some critics see the device as a coercion tool abused by the police force, especially when used as a stun gun and thrust into a person’s body with the intention of inflicting pain – the so-called ‘drive-stun’ tactic.

This adds to fears that the weapon’s massive proliferation is not keeping up with specialized training and supervision. Taser-carrying officers only get a three-day training course with a one-day annual brush-up. That is compared to the many months of firearm training officers get before being allowed to carry a gun.

The 2008 decision to allow everyday officers to carry Tasers has coincided with the issuing of 5,500 new units on the Home Office’s orders, the Guardian found.

Taser use on vulnerable individuals (old, underage or weak individuals) is a persistent issue with numerous rights groups, including Amnesty International, which sees the increase in its use as a matter of ‘grave concern’. It looks especially bad for police when it turns out that firing the weapon was not necessary in the first place. Recent Taser victims involving gross police misconduct in Britain range from 12- to 63 year-old persons.

Amnesty’s Kate Allen is concerned with the fact that “a Taser doesn’t just give a little tingle – it’s a potentially-lethal 50,000-volt weapon and should not be spoken of as some sort of ‘natural progression’ of the standard policing kit.”  

She went on to recommend that “Tasers should only be kept in the hands of a small number of specially-trained officers and used only in a limited set of circumstances.”

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is soon publishing a review of Taser use in the drive-stun mode, deployment in closed spaces and the weapon’s use on vulnerable individuals.

IPCC deputy chair Deborah Glass explained that the commission has “specific concerns about some of the ways and circumstances in which [Taser] is used. We have expressed concerns to the Association of Chief Police Officers [ACPO] about the use of Taser in the drive-stun method."

A police officer patrols the Mall in front of Buckingham Palace.(Reuters / Luke MacGregor)

The main argument used by the police to defend the tactic is that it is a less lethal alternative to live ammunition, while often reducing tensions that may lead to a lethal outcome in particular situations.

Further to that argument is the idea that increased use is not a behavioral problem, but a natural result of an increase in the roll-out, according to armed-police spokesman for ACPO, Simon Chesterman.

"These figures show the use of Taser has increased in line with the rollout of more weapons. There will be concerns raised by individuals that don't necessarily understand the underlying causes of the increase and there will be people raising concerns over this who don't agree with the police having Taser," he said, adding that instances of use mentioned in the report concern each time a weapon is drawn – which obviously does not mean ‘discharged’.

No deaths have yet been attributed to Taser use – at least in the UK – but it does not change the fact that certain organizations and the public increasingly fear its use as a basic method of restraining an individual, rather than the 50,000-volt nearly lethal force.

In the United States, the recent death of an 18-year-old street artist following the use of a Taser was only one of a staggering number of cases in which the public was outraged by how little thought is given by officers before deciding to deploy the weapon. Another recent case included a policeman in New Mexico using the weapon on a 10-year-old boy because he would not clean the officer’s car.