UK: Increased deployment of Tasers in London "should not have to involve politicians"

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The chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, John Tully, has said that "the deployment of Taser should be an operational consideration for chiefs - and that the decision should not have to involve politicians," according to a report in the magazine Police Oracle. [1]

His comments come a week after the London Assembly's Police and Crime Committee issued a report, 'Arming the Met: The deployment of less-lethal weapons in London' (pdf), that criticised the decision taken by the Metropolitan Police to vastly expand the number of police officers trained to use Tasers, and the number of Tasers available, which is due to increase from 800 to more than 6,500. [2]

The Police and Crime Committee argue in their report that the decision to increase Taser deployment taken by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) and the Mayor's Office for Police and Crime took place "through private conversations and behind closed doors" and "did not allow Londoners an opportunity to challenge the MPS's reasoning or determine how successfully Taser had been used in the past."

Tully has defended the process, saying: "I disagree that the Met Commissioner should have to refer (to London Assembly members) if it is operationally prudent to do so, although I agree we must take the public with us."

He did not make clear how the police could "take the public" with them if they are not informed of proposals in the first place. So far the police's justifications have relied upon stories of the violence sometimes faced by police officers.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe has said that his initial decision to expand the use of Tasers came "following a series of incidents in which officers sustained serious injury while attempting to subdue suspects," [3] including a situation in which four officers "were seriously injured by a knifeman." [4]

Tully told Police Oracle that "We had one officer at this year's Police Bravery Awards who suffered horrific injuries while he was dealing with a knifeman - this is a situation in which we can find ourselves."

However, he did not mention the Taser-related injuries and deaths inflicted upon members of the public that have come with the increased use of the weapons. Just this week two police officers from Merseyside constabulary were dismissed after the Independent Police Complaints Commission "upheld two complaint appeals from a man who was wrongly arrested and subjected to five unjustified rounds of Taser in 2009." [5]

In July "fresh concerns [were] raised over the safety of Tasers following the death of an ice cream man who was stunned while being restrained by police," the seventh person in ten years to die after being Tasered. [6]

In April a man died "after suffering horrific burns in an incident when he was 'Tasered' by a police officer while doused in a flammable liquid." [7]

The London Assembly's report notes:

"[C]oncerns that the rapid growth in Taser use nationally is evidence of its increasing use in situations where it may not have been appropriate. Recent released data from the Home Office shows that the number of Taser deployments grew by 113% between 2009 and 2010, and by 18% between 2010 and 2011."

When Tasers were first introduced in 2004 they could only be used by firearms officers in cases where using firearms was the next available option, but in 2008 the Home Office loosened the criteria so that they could be used in cases where:

"The authorisation to issue firearms does not apply, but where 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."

The report also notes that "Taser use disproportionately affects communities which already demonstrate lower confidence in the police." Black people make up half of those subjected to Taser deployment, and during the period 2008 to 2011 "the proportion of Emotionally or Mentally Distressed (EMD) people subject to Taser rose from 20 per cent to 30 per cent of the total numbers"

Nevertheless, John Tully stated that: "We support the further rollout of Taser as we believe it to be the best less-lethal option available - ultimately this is all about protecting the people of London."

Further reading

  • Arming the Met: The deployment of less-lethal weapons in London (pdf)
  • Assembly demands transparency over expansion of police weaponry, London Assembly
  • Thousands more Tasers issued to police in London, Statewatch News Online, 26 April 2013

    [1] Cliff Caswell, Taser deployment 'not a matter for politicians', Police Oracle, 23 October 2013
    [2] Sandra Laville, Metropolitan police to roll out Tasers in response cars across London, The Guardian, 17 January 2013
    [3] London Assembly Police and Crime Committee, Governance of Taser and other less-lethal weaponry
    [4] Justin Davenport, Police across London to be equipped with Tasers after the Olympics, Evening Standard, 3 July 2012
    [5] IPCC, Merseyside Police officers dismissed after Tasered man appealed to IPCC, 21 October 2013
    [6] Jonathan Brown, Fresh concern raised over Taser safety after seventh death in 10 years, The Independent, 11 July 2013
    [7] Steven Morris, Man dies after police Taser incident, The Guardian, 26 April 2013

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