UK: Police use of Tasers more than doubles

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The number of times police officers in England and Wales have fired Tasers - electro-shock weapons that deliver up to 1,200 volts into the body through metal probes that pierce the skin - more than doubled between 2009 and 2011, according to figures released by the Home Office this week. During 2009 police officers used Tasers 3,128 separate times. By the end of 2011 this had increased to 7,877 uses.

Seven people have died in the UK after being shot by Tasers since they were first introduced in 2003. The most recent death, in July, was of 23-year-old Jordan Begley who was confronted by police whilst wielding a knife and after being shot by a Taser suffered a "medical episode". An article in The Independent reporting Mr Begley's death quoted solicitor Sophie Khan as saying that: "We are going to see a massive increase in the use of Tasers when the latest figures are published in September." [1] The new figures prove her prediction correct.

There are seven categories of Taser use, ranging from drawn ("drawing of Taser in circumstances where any person could reasonably perceive the action to be a use of force") to fired ("the probes are fired into the subject so that the electrical circuit is completed and an incapacitating effect delivered"). [2]

Only the "highest" level of use of Taser in any particular incident is recorded for government statistics, with the most common highest level being "red dotted", where the weapon is not fired but is instead "deliberately aimed and then partially activated so that a laser red dot is placed onto the subject".

As a percentage, the number of times that the highest use of a Taser recorded was "fired" has "remained fairly constant between 2010 and 2011 (20.4% in 2010 and 20.8% in 2011) having declined from 2009 (to 23.2 per cent)." The Home Office argues that this "suggests that while overall use of Taser by the police has increased, the way that Taser are being used has not changed."

Behind the percentages - which are used to present the data on Taser use throughout the Home Office report - the numbers compiled by police forces across England and Wales show clearly the massive increase there has been in the use of the potentially lethal weapons. In 2009 Tasers were recorded as having been fired at people a total of 725 times, but by 2010 this had reached 1,239 times and by 2011 1,506 times. [3]

The ongoing increase in the use of Tasers is part of long-standing government policy pushed for by senior police officers to see the weapons deployed more widely. In November 2008 a year-long trial involving ten police forces ended and the Home Office subsequently announced that 10,000 Tasers would be made available to the police. [4]

This has recently been boosted even further with Bernard Hogan-Howe, chief of London's Metropolitan Police, instigating a highly controversial plan that will see 6,500 of the stun guns made available to officers in the capital. Until the end of 2011 there were only 800 available to police in London.

Amnesty International, which has for years criticised proposals to arm police officers with Tasers, told BBC News in response to the latest figures that:

"The increasing rollout of Tasers across the UK is a grave concern. Amnesty International is worried about every bobby on the beat having a Taser on their belt - it's not a modern truncheon… 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." [5]

The Police Federation, meanwhile, has argued that they are "an effective tool". [6]

In July concerns were also raised about the firing of Tasers at suspects' chests "despite explicit warnings from the weapon's manufacturer not to do so because of the dangers of causing a cardiac arrest." [7]

Further reading

  • EU: Europe's justice and interior ministers push for closer relations between internal security authorities and industry, Statewatch News Online, 17 July 2013
  • UK: Tests near completion on new police weapon, Statewatch News Online, 9 May 2013
  • UK: Thousands more Tasers issued to police in London, Statewatch News Online, 26 April 2013
  • EU: European police step up cooperation on technological research and development, Statewatch News Online, 26 November 2012

    [1] Jonathan Brown, Fresh concern raised over Taser safety after seventh death in 10 years, The Independent, 11 July 2013
    [2] Home Office, Police use of Taser statistics, England and Wales, 2009 to 2011, 10 September 2013
    [3] Home Office, Police user of Taser statistics, England and Wales, 2009 to 2011: data tables (.ods spreadsheet)
    [4] UK: Police Taser extension "at any cost", Statewatch News Online, November 2008; Home Office, Tasers to roll out to all police forces, 24 November 2008
    [5] Police Taser use more than doubles - Home Office, BBC News, 10 September 2013
    [6] Tasers 'are very effective tool', says Police Federation, BBC News, 10 September 2013
    [7] Shiv Malik and Charlie Mole, Police continued to fire Tasers at chests - despite cardiac arrest warnings, The Guardian, 14 July 2013

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