Laying charges: UK police Taser use on rise against mentally ill, minorities

Home Secretary Theresa May has ordered an inquiry into police use of Taser stun guns, after it emerged the weapons were increasingly and disproportionately used against black Londoners and the mentally ill.

On Thursday, May said she wanted to see clear data on the reasons why officers deployed Tasers in specific incidents. The weapons were introduced to UK police forces in 2004.

“Taser is an important operational tactic which can protect the public, but we are right to demand transparency,” the Home Secretary said.

“So I have asked the national policing lead and Home Office officials to conduct an in-depth review of the publication of Taser data and other use of force by police officers.

“This will present options for publishing data on how police officers are deploying these sensitive powers, who they are being used on and what the outcome was. Just as with ‘stop and search’, we need to bring proper transparency to these powers by improving data reporting.”

British Home Secretary Theresa May (AFP Photo / Leon Neal)

Tasers work by firing a high voltage electric charge via two metal strips, which causes the target’s muscles to shake uncontrollably.

Evidence from the London Assembly shows up to 30 percent of people Tasered by the Metropolitan Police are emotionally or mentally distressed. It further shows 50 percent are from black or other minority ethnic backgrounds.

May’s comments follow last week’s publication of Home Office figures, revealing the use of Tasers by British police has continued to skyrocket.

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The figures show the electroshock weapons were used 10,488 times in the past 12 months, a 13 percent rise compared to last year. There is little clarity on why the weapons are increasingly used.

May spoke at a conference in London on policing and mental health on Thursday.

In her speech, she also announced measures aimed at improving the way police deal with the mentally ill. More detained people will be put into hospitals or other healthcare institutions, rather than police cells, she said.